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Can you Dig it? Call before you Dig – it’s Safer, and it’s the Law

Summer is a great time for outside projects. Are you planning to put up a new shed, fence or garage or even just install a mailbox or dig a hole to plant a new tree or shrub?

Don’t get your shovel out quite yet!

You may need to call 811 before you dig.

While your property is, well, your property, you may be surprised at what is underneath the ground – and where it is.

Water, sewer, gas, oil, cable, TV, telephone, and electricity are among the utilities that may be underground on your property. None of which you want to disturb!

We find it apropos that the designated phone number for this is 811. That’s because if you call 811 before you dig, you will not likely have to call 911 after you dig to report that someone’s been hurt when striking a gas pipe or electrical line.

It’s truly a system to prevent emergencies from happening – both to people and to property.

The state law (which was revised in 2013) says you must call 811 at least two business days before you plan to dig. Then the folks at the call center will ensure that all public utilities are notified about the upcoming dig on your property. You may be asked to mark the area you plan to dig with white paint or white flags, which can be found at many hardware stores.

Then, each organization – either by themselves or via a hired “locator” – will mark the area of each utility. Each type of utility has a different color so that you will know what is where.

The designated color for drinking water is blue; sewer is green, and gas, oil and steam are all marked yellow.

Red is the color for electrical utilities and orange signifies communications – like internet, telephone and cable TV. Purple is the color for “reclaimed water” – that is not sewage, but water not treated for use as drinking water.

When dealing with the Dig law, “public” utilities are the ones that use the public right of way to your house. So, the folks at 811 will also let you know there could be a couple of other lines you may need to keep your eye out for.

For instance, if you have a sprinkler system, you’ll want to stay aware of that before you dig. Also, while propane gas lines will be marked, if instead of a pipe into your house from the street, you have a propane gas tank on your house that has a line into your house, you’ll need to keep track of that line. Another example would be if you have an electrical line from your house meter to your garage, that line may not be located for you.


Unless you’re in the building industry, you may not be aware of the dig laws that are fairly recently on the scene.

After a series of tragic accidents, national attention was brought to the issue of running into dangerous underground lines when digging.

In January of 2013, Washington’s Dig Law was updated. According to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 19.122, through the underground utility damage prevention act, the legislature “intends to protect public health and safety and prevent disruptions of vital utility services through a comprehensive damage prevention program that includes

  1. Assigning responsibility for providing notice of proposed excavation, locating and marking underground utilities, and reporting and repairing damage;

  2. Setting safeguards for construction and excavation near hazardous liquid and gas pipelines

  3. Improving worker and public knowledge of safe practices;

  4. Collecting and analyzing damage data;

  5. Reviewing alleged violations; and

  6. Enforcement


The law does have several exemptions that make it possible to plant posies or farm your land without having to worry every year about making a phone call. ]

The exemptions include some emergency excavations, as well as an excavation of less than 12 inches in depth on private, noncommercial property, if the excavation is performed by the person or an employee of the person who owns or occupies the property. It also includes the tilling of soil for agricultural purposes less than 12 inches deep within a utility easement and 20 inches deep outside of a utility easement.

In addition, it includes the replacement of official traffic signs no deeper than the depth at which it was installed. Some road maintenance activities if they are less than 6 inches in depth below the original road grade and a few other listed activities are also included.

We’re not legal experts, so please look into the law yourself or call 811 for more information. However, it seems to us that with an exception of planting marigolds or your annual vegetable garden, it is definitely worth a call to 811 if you’re digging a deep hole for any large tree or putting in a new fence, or of course, any larger job. If in doubt, call.

For more information go to or call 811 to have the operators direct you to further answers.


First-time homebuyer? To get the best loans, get educated. Check out for your internet homebuyer education and housing counseling needs. We here at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor will help you get it done. We may be able to help you finance your home purchase, too.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner or one of our contractors? We have rehab loan funds at tailored rates! Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.

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