Imagine this: The first sunny Saturday of spring finally rolls around, and you decide that you're going plant some flowers in the front yard. You go to the nursery, buy soil, colorful plants, and brand-new gloves. The second you get home, you dig right into the flower bed.
But because you missed one important step in your day of gardening, you now have an $8,000 bill. Oh, and first responders have evacuated four houses on your street.
What went wrong?
Grabbing a shovel and digging in your yard at the drop of a hat seems harmless enough. But in 2017, there were 2,756 reported incidents of damage to underground utilities in the state of Washington. The cause? People were digging holes in their yards without getting the locations of underground utility lines or pipes.
The "Call Before You Dig" law requires you or anyone performing any digging to call 811 and have underground utilities located at least two business days before they break ground—even if you're just planting a small flower bed or bush. Utility lines for gas, power, and telephones are buried everywhere, in some places only a few inches below ground. You could easily hit a line when digging for simple gardening projects.
If you don't make the call before starting work, you could be subject to monetary penalties (up to thousands of dollars) and be liable for any damage you cause. You're also putting yourself and your neighbors at risk—making contact with an electrical line or gas pipe could be risky and potentially fatal.
How do I call?
It's easy: at least two days before you plan on digging a hole, simply dial 8-1-1.
The 811 call center will ask you for the address where the work is taking place, the area where the utility lines need to be located, the township section and range (if known), and the date the work will begin.
The call center will alert any utility companies that could have lines running in the area where you plan to work. Regulated companies include telephone, electricity, natural gas, water, garbage, recycling, residential movers, charter buses, airport shuttles, commercial ferries, and natural gas pipeline.
One or more locators will then come out to your address and flag areas that have pipelines beneath them. The flags are color-coded as follows:
- Red: Electric
- Yellow: Gas, oil, fuel
- Orange: Cable, TV, telephone
- Blue: Drinking water
- Green: Sewer
- Purple: Non-drinking water
- Pink: Survey marks
- White: Excavator marks
Even if you've hired a contractor to do the work for you, ask them if they have called 811. Nobody is exempt!
What happens next?
Each affected utility company will send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines within two to three working days.
Always proceed with caution when digging around utility lines. If you plan on doing work within two feet of the marked area, only use small hand tools (such as a garden trowel) to carefully expose the utility line.
Is it really the law to call?
Yes, yes it is. Failing to call 811 before digging can lead to property damage and personal injury. It's not worth the risk!
You can have underground utilities located for free with one quick call to 811 or by visiting www.callbeforeyoudig.org.