Stories and news from FortisBC

This is what actually happens when you click or call BC 1 Call

May 5, 2020

The writer in her backyard with a shovel.

From the age of 12, well into adulthood, I lived in apartments. Meaning I’d never had a yard until I was middle-aged. Gardening was limited to pots on my balcony ... if I had one. So when I bought an older townhouse with a little backyard, I made big plans to transform it into my little green haven.

Yard flooding

When it rained, a portion of my lawn would turn into a pond.

But after the first rain I discovered that the yard had drainage issues. I knew I’d have to augment the soil to improve the drainage and, after doing some research, decided to make a French drain. It’s basically a 12 to 18 inch trench filled with a perforated plastic pipe about six inches in diameter surrounded by gravel and topped with topsoil, which then allows water somewhere to drain.

Because I worked at a utility I was aware of BC 1 Call and the requirement to click or call before I dug. And my townhouse had natural gas heat and hot water so I knew there was a gas line somewhere in my backyard as the gas meter was on the back wall of my unit facing the backyard.

French drain

Had I not worked at the utility I would’ve never known about the requirement to get location details of underground utilities on my property and probably would’ve blindly started digging for my trench without taking precautions.

Yes, I know I was digging less than two feet deep and underground utilities are always buried at least three feet deep right? Not necessarily. My townhouse was almost 40 years old when I moved in. So as you can imagine, there was probably some shifting and/or erosion of soil in those four decades. Meaning a pipe that was originally buried three feet down could be much closer to the surface after years of soil erosion and shifting.

Here’s what I did to stay safe

As well as staying safe, I wanted to avoid the embarrassment and cost of having my colleagues come out to repair a natural gas service line in my backyard. So, about three days before I was planning to dig I went to to request a line locate. Oh, and did I mention there’s no charge for this service? It’s absolutely free! BC 1 Call is funded by its members, i.e. the utilities. I clicked on the “Homeowners” tab and from there was given step-by-step instructions on how to use the service.

How to use BC 1 Call

First I had to register for an account. When I registered I entered “homeowner” under job, company and industry type. Once registered and my account confirmed, I was able to create a ticket, which means a request for line location information.

Once I created my ticket I just had to fill in the options using the dropdown menus. (Hint: for homeowners doing landscaping or gardening, choose a regular ticket and under type of work, choose landscaping.)

How to use BC 1 Call

On the location tab, I entered my address and a satellite map of my home popped up. From there I used the polygon tool and roughly drew around the area of where I planned to dig.

How to use BC 1 Call

Once I entered all the location information and hit submit I was taken to the summary tab, which provided me with my ticket number and a list of utilities located at my address. So I did my job, ready to start digging, right? Not so fast.

Once I got my ticket, BC 1 Call sent out the request to the utility companies and in three days I received underground line location information and a map from them via email. In my case I had underground gas utilities on my property (remember the gas heating I mentioned earlier?). Some properties could even have underground fibre optic cable, or underground BC Hydro wires, so it’s not just sewer and gas lines that are underground.

On the provided map, I saw that the natural gas service line for all the townhouses in my complex ran right across my backyard. Using the measurements on the map, I was able to determine how far the gas line was from the back wall of my townhouse. But as my luck would have it, it was supposedly right under where I wanted to dig my trench. I sure hoped the gas line wasn’t too near the surface as that would’ve ruined my plans. FortisBC requires that anything installed over a gas service line has a minimum of 12 inches of separation between the two. Meaning for my 18-inch dig, the gas line would have to be buried two-and-a-half feet deep from the surface.

Person digging

When you know your dig location is within one metre of a gas line on either side, hand digging is mandatory.

So, very slowly and carefully, I hand dug a small section to see how far down I could dig before reaching the line. I got as far as the tracer wire (installed with the gas line to make it easy to locate using a metal detector), so I knew the gas line was close by. Luckily, the depth of the wire indicated that it was safe for me to dig my 18-inch trench. But I was still very careful, always being aware of coming in contact with anything hard, just in case a section of the gas line was closer to the surface.

And that’s that. I dug my 18-inch trench and built my French drain. By just taking one extra step, I prevented a potential accident. If I had obliviously gone ahead and dug, I could’ve hit the line. Moral of the story, no matter how small your dig is—even if it’s just for a tiny perennial plant—always click or call BC 1 Call before you dig so you know what’s below.

An important note during COVID-19 public health emergency:
Since most of us are at home practicing physical distancing, many of us now have the time for those garden projects we’ve been procrastinating about. But since mid-March our gas line hits have increased. Please, if you must dig in your yard, it’s now more important than ever to get the location of all underground utilities before you dig. If you hit a gas line, a FortisBC crew will have to attend to repair it. This means gas will be shut off to your home and potentially others in your neighbourhood. And you’ll be on the hook for repair costs. And, once the gas is turned back on after the repair, we’d have to enter affected homes to ensure all gas appliances are operating safely. We want to maintain physical distancing, so help us keep our crews and the public safe. If you can’t delay your project, you MUST click or call BC 1 Call before you dig.

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