As the signs of spring appear, weather warms and the ground is ready for digging, eager do-it-yourself residents and contractors are jumping into projects. Whether putting in a fence, planting a tree or building a deck, knowing where the utility lines are before you dig helps prevent injuries, property damage and inconvenient utility outages.


Contacting 811 notifies the appropriate utility companies of the intent to dig. Utility representatives are then sent free of charge to the requested digging sites to mark the approximate locations of underground lines with flags or spray paint. For information on safe digging best practices and other damage prevention information visit www.iowaonecall.com.


Black Hills Energy encourages homeowners, contractors and professional excavators to follow all safe digging guidelines and remember these tips to remain safe:


• Call or click before you dig: When starting an outdoor digging project, customers are advised to dial 811 or visit www.iowaonecall.com to request to have underground utility lines marked at least 48 hours in advance. Requests to have utility operators mark underground lines, including natural gas, electric, water, sewer,telephone and cable lines, can be made 24-hours a day, seven days a week and is free.


• Mark your planned dig site and allow the required time for utility marking: Before doing any digging, mark your planned dig site with white flags or spray paint, then call 811 or visit the website and wait the required time to have underground utility lines marked. The approximate location of underground utility lines will be marked with color-coded spray paint, flags or stakes that correspond to the utility. The color used for natural gas is yellow.


• Respect the marks: Only use hand digging tools to carefully uncover the area around a utility when you need to dig close to the marks. Use extreme care around natural gas facilities. Just a nick on a gas pipeline can create a weak spot that may develop into a leak.


• Don’t rely on old line locate marks: Project delays? If you don’t dig within 10 days of having the lines marked, contact 811 again. At no charge, line locators will gladly return to re-mark the lines as quickly as possible. Never rely on outdated information.


“Public safety and the welfare of customers and our employees are always our first concern,” said Wes Ashton, vice president of Iowa gas operations for Black Hills Energy. “Whether your project is big or small, safe digging is critical to avoid an incident or tragedy.”


If a natural gas line is damaged accidentally or you smell the distinctive rotten-egg odor associated with natural gas, leave the area and then call 911 or the Black Hills Energy 24-hour emergency phone line at 800-694-8989. Do not operate any machinery or equipment that might cause a spark or create an open flame.