Call 811 before you dig

It may not be treasure in the traditional sense, but what’s buried under your lawn is pretty valuable stuff. 

A few inches underground, beneath your green grass and lovely landscaping, is a complex network of pipes and wires that bring services such as natural gas, electricity, communications, water, sewage and other utilities into your home.

These underground lines can be damaged by something as small as digging or plowing around a home for an improvement project to breaking ground on a new building development.

Nationwide, one out of every three damages to underground utilities is the result of uninformed digging. Carelessly striking a pipeline is also the most common cause of natural gas emergencies.

Nearly all these accidents could have been prevented simply by calling 811 before digging.

Nearly all these accidents can be prevented simply by calling 811 before digging. Having underground utility lines located reduces the likelihood of damaging one to less than 1 percent.

Phone before the shovel

With many people taking advantage of spring weather to tackle yard projects, it’s important to dig safely on your property to avoid damaging critical utilities.

“Never assume you know what is below,” cautions Savannah Chandler, Walton Gas communications coordinator.

Every digging project, no matter how large or small, warrants contacting 811 by phone or online. Installing a mailbox, building a deck, planting a tree and laying a patio are just some examples of digging projects that need a call to 811 before starting.

 “Call Before You Dig” isn’t just a good idea; it’s also the law here in Georgia.

“Call Before You Dig” isn’t just a good idea; it’s also the law here in Georgia. Uninformed digging that results in damage to a utility line can result in a fine of up to $5,000 per violation in this state.

Follow these steps to safer digging:

  1. Make the call. One free, simple phone call to 811 will notify all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig.
  1. Provide advance notice. Contact 811 at least three full business days (but no more than 10 days) prior to digging to ensure utility lines are properly marked.
  1. Provide your project info. When you call, a representative from 811 will ask for the location and description of your digging project.
  1. Allow utilities to mark underground lines. 811 will notify affected utilities that will then send professional locators to the dig site to mark the exact location of any underground lines.
  1. Understand the location marks. Each type of buried utility has its own color code. For instance, yellow signifies a natural gas line. Marks may be painted or located with flags. See the color code map table below for specific information.

Buried treasure

In more ways than one, the value of underground utility lines is a lot like buried treasure.

First, consider this: There are more than 20 million miles of underground utility lines in just the United States. That’s more than one football field’s length (105 yards) of buried utilities for every single American.

Those buried utilities provide both necessities and conveniences. Playing a risky game of uninformed digging can have costly consequences.

“At a time when many are working from home, calling 811 is really the only way to know which utilities are buried in your area so that you can dig safely and keep your family, friends and neighbors safe and connected to essential utilities,” said Chandler.

April is National Safe Digging Month

Damaged gas lines can cause deadly explosions. Striking an electrical line could result in electrocution of an individual holding the shovel.

In 2019, 532,000 excavation-related damages amounted to more than $30 billion in direct and indirect costs in the U.S., according to data collected by the Common Ground Alliance, the nonprofit association dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the safety of people who dig near them. Put in perspective, that’s more than double the U.S. federal law enforcement budget for the same year.

If you strike a line

Even when lines are marked, accidents happen. If you make contact with an underground line, call the utility immediately so it can inspect for damage.

  • If any contact with a natural gas line is made, Walton Gas customers should call Atlanta Gas Light at 877-427-4321.
  • Connect to the Atlanta Gas Light safety page if you’re unsure how to recognize a natural gas leak and what you should do if you suspect a leak.