By Doug Meeks, Texas811

Texas doesn’t have a drop of water to waste, so when an excavator ruptures your pipeline after they called 811 but didn’t call you, it’s much more than a broken pipe – it’s a broken system.

Many water utility operators, large and small, participate in the 811 notification system: not because they have to, but because it makes good business sense and helps to provide safe and dependable drinking water to the tap. When some facility operators participate in 811 but others do not, it’s hardly a “One Call” system and as a result, everybody suffers.

As a novice to the industry, I see three critical components which will impact the future of our existing water supplies; source sustainability, supply-side water efficiency and consumer water conservation. With Mother Nature being the wild card in this equation, it appears to me that of the three critical components, supply-side water efficiency is the easiest for the drinking water provider to control. For the purpose of this article, I won’t address the most obvious supply-side water efficiency measures, such as leak repair, replacement programs, and system upgrades. Instead, I would like to focus on prevention of third party damage to underground infrastructure. If you are one of the approximately 450 drinking water providers that are currently registered in the Texas811 notification system and provide positive response to facility locate requests, you understand how this loss-control strategy not only reduces operating costs, it also reduces systems lost and unaccounted-for.

Participation in the Texas811 notification system provides substantial opportunity to improve efficiency through damage prevention and public education programs. A significant percentage of damage to water systems is the result of excavators calling 811 to request facility locates but failing to realize that the water utility was not registered in the Texas811 notification system. The excavator sees red, yellow and orange marks on the ground and begins their work not realizing that the water main had not been marked. The end result is drinking water down the storm drain before you can sell it to your customers and the potential for TCEQ to be knocking at your door.

Receiving locate requests through the 811 system provides a means of notification from a single, verifiable source. If you currently rely on the excavator to call your utility directly for facility locates, consider the fact that they are not required by state law to do so. Title 5, Chapter 251 of the Texas Utilities Code requires excavators to call 811 before digging, but does not require them to notify utility operators not participating in the 811 system. Taking advantage of this legal requirement presents the drinking water provider with a higher level of control at reducing damage by third party excavators. If your city currently relies on a permitting process to identify excavators working near your lines, I’m certain that you’ve come to the realization that not everybody is requesting a permit. An 811 notification is a means of identifying those excavators who have failed to request a permit thus allowing the permitting department better control of the process and could potentially result in increased revenue.

Participating in 811 notification system just makes good business sense and is one of the most cost effective methods of keeping drinking water in the pipe until it reaches the consumer. Consider that other drinking water providers are already participating in the Texas811 notification system and achieving spectacular results. For example, the City of Fort Worth water utility reduced third party damage to their system by a whopping 72% within the first year after registering with Texas811.

In closing, participation in the Texas811 notification system and locating underground facilities ahead of construction is a fundamental water loss control measure. It is not only the smart thing to do; it is the right thing when it comes to preserving our most precious commodity.

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