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Colorado, Know Before You Dig!

By Maraliese Beveridge
Denver Skyline

With 31 offices nationwide, Maser Consulting has followed a path driven by opportunity to serve community needs. While most of its locations are along the eastern seaboard, the company has been veering west into Tennessee, Texas and New Mexico. But most recently, the firm took a hard jump into Colorado! Why you ask? To help you locate utilities before you dig, and one way of doing that is SUE.

What’s SUE?

Vac truck locates underground utilities so you know before you dig

Subsurface Utility Engineering, or SUE, is a coordinated approach to obtaining data about existing underground utilities before you dig. Damaging utilities is both expensive and dangerous. So, Colorado instituted a law that addresses the process of down-under digging. Since these utilities are virtually invisible, stakeholders previously relied on every bit of circumstantial evidence they could find. Old drawings (if you could get them) were probably not updated with field changes during construction. So good luck locating their above-ground counterparts. It’s like following the yellow brick road backwards. Hence the problem.

The Colorado Subsurface Utility Engineering Law

Colorado is a forerunner in taking measures to ensure underground utilities are located without incident. They recently enacted The Colorado Subsurface Utility Engineering Law (SB18-167) which is the most comprehensive statute in the country addressing this type of investigation. Prior to this law, excavators were reactive—you break it, you fix it. If you got away with not hitting any utilities—lucky you. But there is no room for luck when the risk of serious injury exists. And fines accrued from damaging existing utilities can devastate your budget.

The Colorado SUE law now requires licensed professional engineers, who are designing excavation for public projects, to submit a utility location request to the public utility commission if plans include:

  • Digging more than 2 ft. deep
  • Project encompasses more than 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Project involves any directional drilling

What Does This Mean?

The engineering plan must also meet certain standards in Levels D and C as described in the American Society of Civil Engineers ASCE 38-02, Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data.

Level D, which is considered a lower level of precision, is comprised of gathering circumstantial evidence such as from existing mapping and records as mentioned above. Level C is a step up and requires the physical survey of all visible above-ground assets. Together, these levels combine to produce an “educated guess” as to where the utilities are. If an entity fails to employ these two steps, they are subject to fines of up to $5,000 for the first violation and $75,000 for each subsequent violation. They are also referred to an investigative commission that can add sanctions, such as enhanced training.

In addition to this law, it is necessary to contact the 811/One Call mark-out service (“Call Before You Dig”) before digging. This service provides FREE utility underground location services and is required in all 50 states.

SUE rendering

Taking it to the Next Level

The safest route is not yet dictated by law and includes the additional employment of Levels B and A. B being the inclusion of using electromagnetic utility detection tools (e.g. GPR, pipe and cable locators). Level A consists of digging test holes for visual confirmation. SUE’s standardized approach ensures the quality level of data collection. When used to its fullest potential, this powerful verification process has become a critical part of both the design and decision-making processes for new and existing infrastructure projects. To take this approach even further, add early coordination with the utility companies into the mix and you’re golden!

While it’s going to cost the client a little more money up-front, in the long run they will be saving money from potential fines and repair of damaged utilities, while mitigating risk and creating a safer work environment.

Know Before You Dig

Colorado’s new law is a giant step in the right direction! Considering our nation’s aging infrastructure, the law still has a way to go in becoming completely effective by adding Levels B and A. But it is paving the way for measures that should eventually be adopted by every state. Maser has been growing its SUE services across the country and has a strong land and geospatial survey service line. It also has an array of other in-house services that complement the SUE process including GIS asset management, geotechnical and civil engineering. A match made in heaven!

To read more about our endeavors in Colorado, click here.

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2 Responses to “Colorado, Know Before You Dig!”

April 21, 2019 at 11:17 pm, Lina said:

What does SUE mean?

April 22, 2019 at 12:34 pm, Maser Consulting said:

SUE is subsurface utility engineering. It’s a process that verifies and maps the location of existing underground utilities. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out this article
Thanks for reaching out!

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