GEORGETOWN, Texas (Nexstar) — A statewide group striving to prevent gas leaks warns of the risks that come with working on construction or yard projects without calling 811 first. Though getting the green light to dig does not mean homeowners or excavators are in the clear.
Texas811 hosted a demonstration with regional and state organizations to share the level of danger for those who do not call the three-digit hotline.
“We’re training both excavators that are digging, plus the emergency response agencies that are subject to keep the general public safe if there were a pipeline incident,” Texas811 damage prevention manager Doug Meeks said.
Texans may be familiar with the colored flags that are planted in areas where work is being done or scheduled. Rupturing a pipe during construction or landscaping could land homeowners or contractors in hot water. State law requires calling 811 before digging, and wait for crews to come inspect the property.
“Call before you dig. It’s a free service, it’s required by law, it’s meant to protect you the homeowner, and your general public around you,” Meeks explained. He said that there are over 1,700 member utility and pipeline operators that participate.
Participation in the one-call system is mandatory for gas, electric, and telecommunication companies. But, the entities that manage water and sewer systems are not required to participate. It is currently voluntary, but encouraged. Residents or workers must contact those entities separately in order to avoid problems when given the “all clear” to dig after approval. The team at Texas811 hopes more utility providers will participate, to make the process easier for all involved.
“I believe that over time, more and more government officials are understanding the importance of water and sewer to be a part of the one-call system,” Texas811 pipeline response manager David Ferguson said. “In the future we may see that as a requirement, but currently, you may have to contact the water or sewer department directly.”
Ferguson said those who are not sure whether they need to call the other departments separately is to look at the bottom of the locate ticket that is assigned for the project.
“At the bottom [of the locate ticket] will be the members that belong to that 811 call center, and if you see that your city or municipality, water or sewer, is not a part of that one call ticket then you know that you need to call them directly,” Ferguson explained.
Ferguson mentioned there is damage to more than 9,000 underground pipelines across the state each year.
“Almost 30 percent of those pipelines are damaged because people have not called 811 before they started digging,” he added.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates gas pipelines. The agency levied more than $4 million in Pipeline Damage Prevention penalties in 2017.
“Whether one inch of soil or 10 feet of soil, call 811, that is a necessity,” Texas Railroad Commission compliance analyst Miles Kirk said. “Not only is it going to help people avoid penalties or fines, it’s going to help them stay safe and avoid damages and interruptions of service.”
In addition to calling 811, Texans can also submit an online request at Texas811.org.