Extension News

Make ONE CALL Before you Dig

Flags marking buried utility lines

Note to media editors: This is the Iowa State University Extension Garden Column for the week of May 16, 2008.


By Linda Naeve

Program specialist

Iowa State University Extension


This time of year, garden and home improvement centers are like malls during the holiday season – people standing in lines at check outs and spending large amounts of money on seasonal items. However, instead of tree lights, tinsel and gifts, the focus now is on beautiful flowers, trees, ponds, patios, decks, fences, play structures or sheds.


Nearly all spring home improvement and landscape projects require some thought and planning prior to the shopping trip. Selecting the best plant species or variety, finding the appropriate location and orientation in the landscape, and selecting the appropriate materials and equipment needed for the project are all part of the planning process. Depending on the project, a critical and mandatory activity may be missing from that list – a phone call.


This is not a phone call to your banker to finance the project, but rather a phone call necessary to minimize the risk of damaging underground utility facilities and seriously injuring yourself.


Iowa law requires that any person, whether a homeowner or professional contractor, planning to engage in any form of excavation within the state of Iowa, must notify the “Iowa One Call” notification system. This includes projects such as: installing a fence, planting trees or shrubs, putting in a new driveway, building a patio, deck, garage, outdoor shed or any structure that requires any form of digging, installing a septic system or water drainage system, terracing or landscaping.


The Iowa One Call notification system is a free call and free service to all people planning to excavate within the state of Iowa. It is a non-profit organization funded by the owners and operators of underground facilities who are required by law to belong to the system.


This phone call may be the easiest, least expensive and most important part of your planting or home improvement project because all excavators, including homeowners, may be liable for any damages they cause to underground facilities. If you hit and damage the lines, you may need to call your insurance company or banker because you may be held responsible for paying for the repair costs, loss of product/services, property damage and more.


You must notify Iowa One Call of your excavation plans at least 48 hours (normal business hours, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays) prior to digging or excavating. If you are planning to dig or excavate on Saturday or Sunday, you will need to notify One Call prior to 5 p.m. on Wednesday of that week. By simply dialing 811 any time of day, 24-7, you will reach an Iowa One Call customer service representative.


When you make the call, be prepared to give the representative the following information: the street address, block or lot number of the proposed area of excavation; the name, address and telephone number of the excavator; the date and time when excavation is scheduled to begin; and the approximate location of the excavation on the property.


With the information that you give Iowa One Call representatives, they will assign an eight-digit number to your request, like a confirmation number, that will contain all the information about your call. Write that number down and keep it with your records. After getting your information, One Call representatives will notify the owners or operators of underground facilities who participate in Iowa Once Call. The underground facility operators will dispatch “locate” staff to the area to mark the underground lines with flags and paint markings, showing where they are located.


Different colored flags or paint marks represent different buried facilities. For example, red flags mark electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables and yellow flags identify gas, oil, steam, petroleum or gaseous materials. It is important to note that Iowa law allows for an 18-inch tolerance zone on each side of the marker for the buried facility. Although it may alter your plans a bit, it is recommended to avoid digging within 18 inches of the marker.


Keep the 811 number handy and call it before all excavating projects. For more information on Iowa One Call, go to www.iowaonecall.com.


Contacts :

Linda Naeve, Entomology, (515) 294-8946, lnaeve@iastate.edu

Jean McGuire , Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-7033, jmcguire@iastate.edu

There is one photo for this week's column: buried line flags.jpg  [1.9 MB]

Cutline: Different colored flags or paint marks represent different buried facilities.