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Spring is arriving, reminding many of us of various outstanding home improvements and gardening projects. April is National Garden Month and Keep America Beautiful Month, so it’s natural that this month also includes National Gardening Day (April 15), International Earth Day (April 22) and National Arbor Day (April 28).

Not coincidentally, April is also National Safe Digging Month to promote awareness that unplanned digging by homeowners or construction crews can lead to underground utility damage. Known as third-party strikes, these incidents create public safety hazards and cost an average of $61 billion each year in damaged utilities.* From small homeowner projects to full-scale construction, failure to contact 811 before digging is the largest single root cause of all third-party strikes.*

Remembering three simple numbers can help prevent most of these incidents: contact or call 811 at least two business days before digging at zero cost to you. It’s that easy. 

What is 811?

811 is the national call-before-you-dig phone number. When you call 811, you are connected to the local One Call Center in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia. 

You can also create an 811-notification ticket online. For Maryland and D.C., visit, and in Virginia go to Click the Homeowner links to get started. Representatives of member utilities, such as Washington Gas, will make a free visit to your location to mark underground utility line locations with color-coded safety paint and/or flags.

From homeowners to construction crews, everyone is required by law to contact 811 before scheduling any type of digging. For more information, visit

This includes general digging, gardening, landscaping, home improvements and/or major construction, excavation or demolition.

The Dirty Details About Digging

A frequent reason for not contacting 811 before digging is, “This is a small project, so I won’t hit anything.” However, underground utilities may not be buried as deeply as you think.

Some utilities. such as cable and telecom conduit lines, may be buried only about a foot deep depending on local guidelines. Over time, soil compacts at an average rate of about 25%, so an initial 12” of dirt can easily dwindle to less than 9”. Factors such as erosion, runoff and subsidence—the settling and sinking of the Earth’s surface caused by subsurface movement—reduce the original soil margin even more.* 

Many home gardening projects require depths that can easily strike buried utilities. For example, consider these common recommended planting depths: 5-6” for garlic, 6-8” for daffodils, 16” for a tree with a 1” diameter trunk.* While some wires and cables may be encased by protective conduits, this material can still be cracked or penetrated by a shovel blade or pick. Such a situation is ripe for trouble, especially if a damaged electrical line sparks near a buried gas line. 

More Tips for Safe Digging

For individual projects, you’re required by law to use only manual hand tools to dig within two feet to each side of marked locations. For larger-scale contractor excavations, extra caution is needed because markings highlight underground utility locations but not specific digging areas. 

Once you contact 811 and receive a confirmation email, you can also access the Washington Gas Enhanced Positive Response system. Our online safety tool provides detailed information about your proposed digging site, such as photos, mapping and also a copy of the 811 ticket. We are proud to offer this industry-leading technology to help improve your safety as you complete your projects.

Washington Gas also offers free damage prevention training. Contact the Washington Gas Damage Prevention Helpdesk at 703-750-4588 to schedule your session. Best of luck with your spring projects!

Common Ground Alliance:
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