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Can you dig it? You may need to call 811 first!

It may seem surreal after last week’s wind, snow, hail and sleet, but spring is really coming! And that means spring and summer garden and home projects will be upon us before we know it!

Perhaps your spring and summer “To Do” list includes installing a fence or building a shed. Or maybe, just a lot of planting and digging in the garden! As you begin to put together those project lists, pause just a moment to consider if any of your tasks include digging.

Whether you are considering something big like building a new deck or patio or constructing a new garage or shed, or smaller projects like installing a mailbox post, fixing a fence or even just digging a hole to plant a big tree or transplant a shrub, it’s possible you are required to call 811, the CALL BEFORE YOU DIG service. Not only is it the prudent thing to do – it is the law!

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! Digging into one of those utilities could turn your little project into a major headache!

Dial 811 so you don’t need 911!

We think 811, isn’t just easy to remember, it is also appropriate that it is the designated phone number to call before digging.

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. But it only works when people make that call.

Plan to call before digging!

At least two business days before you plan to dig, the state law says you must call 811. Then the folks at the call center will ensure that all public utilities are notified about the upcoming dig on your property. You will 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 at your house that has a line into your house, it’s up to you 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.

What if you use a contractor?

Perhaps your job is bigger than your DIYer ability and you’ve hired a landscaper, builder, handyman or fence installer. Most of those folks know the importance of calling 811 before beginning the project.

However, safety is top priority, so we encourage you to double check with them that they have made that important call.

When you call 811 …

You are required to call at least two business days before you begin to dig. When you call, the call center, which services Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Montana, will answer questions and set your request in motion.

The information you will be asked includes your address and nearby cross streets, city, county, the type and scope of digging project, a contact phone number and an e-mail address or secondary contact number.

There are exemptions

Thankfully, 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, especially if it involves equipment bigger than a shovel.

For more information …

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

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