Call before you dig

Shovel in Dirt

Have you ever started to shovel in your yard and hit something hard? While you might think it’s just a rock or clay – it could be your water, sewer or gas line and accidentally puncturing it could be costly and potentially dangerous. While most utility and service lines are buried several feet beneath the ground’s surface, some areas have very shallow lines, which increase the chances of hitting a utility line located on your property. According to “The Top 5 Home Repairs You Should Never Do Yourself,” homeowners often get into trouble when they attempt to modify a plumbing system, like rerouting, repairing or replacing sewer pipes. Should a homeowner choose to repair or replace a utility line, a utility line location service is available to help determine the location of the lines.

Programs like Click Before You Dig provide homeowners a utility line location service. The service will provide a locator who will help a homeowner locate the utility lines on their property to keep them from inadvertently hitting an underground line while digging. Even repairing a failed water or sewer line caused by root infiltration could disrupt service to neighbors if a homeowner is unaware that the underground lines on their property are connected to a shared line, which could result in a hefty repair bill and city-imposed fines.

Homeowners can have the utility lines on their property marked for reference – what a great idea! Knowing where the water and sewer lines outside the home are located will enable homeowners to monitor ground conditions for potential leaks or breaks via soft spots, pooling water or foul odors.

Calling programs like Click Before You Dig is simple from anywhere in the country. The number routes the call to a local call center that works with your local utility companies. Simply tell the agent your address and describe the intended project. Within a few days a locator will mark the approximate position of the pipes, lines and cables at your residence so digging can be done safely or noted for future reference.

 

Drought season brings thirsty roots

iStock_000014458292MediumWhen it’s hot outside, you might cool off with a refreshing drink of cold water. That same theory applies to plants during summer months. When the weather is hot, coupled with extended periods of drought, roots seek water and are naturally drawn to your water and sewer lines. If you have trees, bushes or other plants with deep-penetrating roots, your lines may be at risk of root intrusion, even if located across the yard.

To survive trees need water and when exposed to long periods without rain, their roots will seek other water sources such as sewer and water pipes. Typically, service pipes are cooler than the surrounding soil, which can create condensation on the outside surface of the line, thus attracting roots when they are thirsty. When trees are first exposed to drought, root growth may actually increase. Sewer lines can be significantly warmer than the surrounding soil, which promotes root growth, cell division and nutrient uptake causing roots to form around your pipes. As lines age or are compromised, it’s possible that tree roots will penetrate and clog the pipes. While shrubs are also problematic, their roots are generally not as long and their life span shorter than trees.

Roots do not typically follow a growth pattern because they are dependent on environmental conditions. While all roots pose a potential problem to water and sewer lines, some preventive measures can be taken to circumvent tree and shrub roots from penetrating your water and sewer lines, including planting at least 10-20 feet from any water or sewer line and avoiding plants with deep, invasive root systems such as

  • Poplar, Cottonwood and Aspen
  • Willow
  • American elm
  • Silver maple
  • Fig
  • Birch
  • Mulberry

Consider planting trees with minimally invasive root systems such as:

  • Japanese fir and maple
  • Acacia
  • Crabapple
  • Vine maple
  • Gingko

CalPoly’s Urban Forests Ecosystems Institute provides a list of plants with low root damage potential to help you avoid tree root problems. As a general rule of thumb – maintain a minimum boundary of 5-10′ between a tree and any underground utilities. Consider root control methods like creating a growth barrier with compact layers of soil, or air gaps using large stones or solid barriers like plastic, metal and wood. Landscape fabric with slow-release chemicals, such as sulfur, sodium, zinc, borate, salt or herbicides (which may be harmful to trees), is also an option. Finally, consider pruning tree roots every five years with the help of an experienced landscaper.