I wear a few hats with my theme camp (called the Brainy Bar) at Burning Man. I lead the camp, I’m the build lead, and also am often either the art lead or co-lead. That gives me an opportunity to work on all kinds of projects, including this gray water evaporator. This post takes you through building the evaporator in 2018
What Is A Theme Camp?
First things first, if you’re not familiar with the event you are probably wondering ‘what is a theme camp?’ You could get all the information you ever wanted to know about Burning Man from their web site. However, in the interest of time let me explain this part in a nutshell. The event is an arts and culture festival that takes place in a high altitude desert in northern Nevada. It’s a campout in a big, empty desert.
A lot of participants are artists and creative types, and subsequently take their idea of making camp to a whole new level. Through art, performance, gifting, or some other idea they basically come up with their own personal art theme and turn their camp into a kind of art installation. That’s a theme camp.
I’ve been involved with theme camps since I started participating in 2004.
Leaving No Trace
Burning Man is also a Leave No Trace event. This means that participants need to pack it in and then pack it out with them. That means everything. All those great pictures and videos you see on social media never show you this part. Those awesome people wearing great costume also typically carry a bag or backpack. The pack holds things like water, a headlamp, a dust mask, and also has pockets for small trash. In addition, smokers even carry around a tin (like the one some mints come in) for their cigarrette butts.
At your camp, the dirty water after washing up or showering is also called gray water. That is definitely considered MOOP (which stands for matter out of place). Dirt, residue from soaps and suntan lotion and who knows what is in there. You definitely don’t want 70,000 people dumping their gray water onto the ground.
Packing water back out means filling buckets. Then you put lids on them, and then having campmates drive back to civilization to dispose of it. Larger camps will contract with an approved water supplier to get gray water tanks for the camp. Brainy Bar is a smaller operation, and we can take care of it ourselves.
Enter The Evaporator
If only there was a way to reduce the amount of water that we had to pack out. 🙂 The event takes place in a high altitude desert, and frequently enjoys a ridiculous amount of sunshine during daylight hours, as well as an abundance of airflow.
The easiest thing to do is create an evap pond. A large lined area where the water gets spread out and evaporates through exposure to the elements. Those are tricky. Even when they’re done right you either wind up needing to take several buckets back home, or you have to cut off campmates from taking showers for days at a time in order to manage the pond. An evap pond is easy, but it’s also very ineffective.
An evaporator is a machine that helps circulate the water so that it evaporates more effectively. I’ve been wanting to build one for many years. As a camp leader, I’m usually the one that has to wrangle filling buckets and hauling water back home. Or worse, I also have to make the unpopular call to tell people they can’t take a shower.
With A Little Help From My Friends
I’ve got friends who have built evaporators for their camps, and then I marveled at their creations. The one I’ve admired most over the years is the one my friend Gadget built and had at Sideshow (an amazing theme camp which ran from 2013-2017).
When Gadget made the video above in 2017, I made the decision to take the plunge. I would be buildin an evaporator in 2018. Mine was pretty faithful to Gadget’s design, with a couple exceptions. I was installing it over an evap pond connected to the camp’s shower, and it would use AC power. Gadget’s video was so helpful, and he was so kind (as well as patient) in answering my questions – many many thanks for everything, Gadget!
As is often the case at Burning Man, I wound up taking very few pictures and video at the event. Subsequently, I got no footage of the evaporator in action. Some campmates did take pictures of us putting the last pieces together during build week. Check out the slideshow above to see pics of building the evaporator in 2018
Additional Credit Where It’s Due
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the amazing contributions of Ember. He’s one of the original driving forces of Leave No Trace. He also built the first trash fence around the Burning Man perimeter. Ember also is one of, if not the first person to dabble in gray water evaporation at Burning Man. He’s a master of graywater evaporation who has designed several different types of evaporators that he calls evap-o-trons. Check out Ember’s Evapotron site for a lot more on the subject.
He has taught and inspired countless Burning Man participants how to build their own. Either through classes, posts on the ePlaya community message board, or his published Instructables article. I had the good fortune of meeting Ember a few years ago at a meeting. We spent some time discussing the event as well as gray water evaporation. His enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to leaving no trace was infectious. It took me from ‘read a few posts and web pages about them and thought they were cool’ to ‘I really want to do this some day.’ As a moderator and administrator on ePlaya, it pained me that the site’s rules at the time prohibited Ember from posting adverts for his workshops. I also kind of wished I had been able to make it to his class and learn from the master.
It definitely worked. I did run into minor issues with the drip hose, but those were easily fixed. I also learned a lot from building the evaporator in 2018. I came away from the playa with a dozen ideas on how I would want to change the design to better suit our needs. I am planning to re-work the design for 2019