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Know What’s Below

Dial 811 before you dig

Spring might seem like the optimal time of year to create a landscaping masterpiece, but in Texas, Arbor Day is celebrated the first Friday in November. Planting trees and shrubs in early fall gives the plants a head start at establishing roots in the season’s cool, moist soil.

Or maybe you’re planning to build a new deck to enjoy those cool autumn evenings instead of planting. If any of your fall projects require digging—such as planting trees or shrubs, or setting posts—remember to dial 811 first.

Underground utilities, such as buried gas, water, electric or communications lines, can be a shovel’s thrust away from turning a fall project into a disaster.

Play it safe by dialing 811 a few days before digging to find out where utility lines run on your property. Your call will be routed to a local “one call” center. Tell the operator where you’re planning to dig and what type of work you will be doing, and the affected local utilities will be notified.

In a few days, a locator will arrive to designate the approximate location of any underground lines, pipes and cables. These areas will be marked with flags or paint so you’ll know what’s below. Then the safe digging can begin.

Although many homeowners tackling do-it-yourself digging projects are aware of “call before you dig” services, most don’t take advantage of them. A national survey showed that only 50 percent of homeowners called to have their lines marked before they started digging projects, according to the Common Ground Alliance, a federally mandated group of underground utility and damage prevention industry professionals. CGA data also show that an underground utility line is damaged every six minutes in the U.S. because someone decided to dig without first dialing 811.

Even simple tasks such as installing a new mailbox post can damage utility lines, which can disrupt service to an entire neighborhood, harm diggers and potentially result in fines and repair costs.

Never assume you know the location or depth of underground utility lines. There’s no need to guess: The 811 service is free, prevents the inconvenience of having utilities interrupted and can help you avoid serious injury. For more information about local services, visit