Call before you dig…

Melissa O’Rourke, ISU Extension Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist

As pointed out on the Iowa One Call website , Iowa law requires farmers to notify Iowa One Call at least 48 hours prior to all excavation.  Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays are excluded, so additional time must be allowed under those circumstances.

Excavation does not include what might be termed “normal” farming operations such as plowing, cultivation, planting and harvesting. However, other farm operations may be considered as excavations which trigger the Iowa One Call requirement.

Excavations in the farm setting include chisel plowing, sub-soiling or ripping more than 15 inches in depth, drain tile excavation and installation, terracing or digging.  Excavation also includes driving a post in a new location other than repairing a fence in its existing location.

There are all sorts of buried pipelines, telecommunications cables, and other types of buried facilities that may exist on farm property.

If a farmer fails to notify Iowa One Call, that farmer may face civil penalties and be held liable for damages caused to these buried facilities.

It is advantageous for Iowa farmers to comply with the Iowa One Call system because such compliance provides a liability exemption for farmland owners.

An owner of farmland used in farm operations (see Iowa Code section 352.2) who complies with Iowa One Call will not be held responsible for damages to underground facilities if the damage occurred on the farmland in the normal course of farm operation. Of course, the exemption does not apply if the landowner intentionally damages the underground facility or “acts with wanton disregard or recklessness” in causing damage to an underground facility such as pipeline or buried cables.

And farmers should not make any assumptions about the depth of a buried cable, pipeline or other facilities. 

It is easy to plan ahead and make the toll-free call to Iowa One Call to notify of the intended excavation.  Underground facilities will be marked with paint and/or colored flags to approximate the location of the buried facilities.  Iowa law allows for an 18-inch tolerance zone on each side of the marking, so excavation should be avoided within the tolerance zone.

If excavation is needed in the vicinity of the markings, additional guidance is available through Iowa One Call regarding how to safely accomplish the operations without causing damage or encountering hazards.

More information is available at  The phone call is toll-free by either dialing 811, or calling 1-800-292.8989.

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