Call before you dig -- or it could cost you

SEATTLE -- Most of us who have a yard figure it's our property, we can do what we want. But that's not necessarily true when it comes to utility lines buried underground.

For decades, state law in Washington has required businesses and residential property owners to call 811 for utility location before digging around the property. The concern is damage to underground utilities lines.

As of 2013, the Call Before You Dig law has been strengthened to allow tougher enforcement. The state now has more ability to levy heavy fines and penalties for failure to have a locating service come to your property and mark the location of gas, electric and other utility lines. In addition, anyone who plans to dig must also outline the specific areas where the digging will occur -- in white paint -- before the locator comes to your property. The special marking paint is sold at home improvement and hardware stores for about $5 to $10 per can.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission says the tougher enforcement and reporting is giving regulators a more clear idea of where the problems are in terms of non-compliance.

"Of the reports that we've been receiving, I'd say a third of those are homeowners who have damaged one of their utilities,"said UTC's Anna Gill.

By law, whoever breaks the line must pay for both the fix and any damage. At best, it's minor damage with a simple repair. At worst, it's a serious break like a water or gas leak, a potential explosion, evacuation, or loss of service to your neighborhood. And if there is damage, and you didn't call for a locator before the digging started, the utility company can bill you for up to 3 times the cost of repairs.

The 811 location service is free is with a key exception: Water lines on your property are considered private, so depending on where you live, you may have to pay for that. Private-pay location service can run around $100 and up.