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Guest Contributor
Are Class B Facilities the Missing Link in Texas Damage Prevention Law?
 By Perry L. Fowler Fowler Group Texas, LLC
Professional excavators and facility owners understand
the importance of the one
call notification system. They are aware that most incidents and damages are avoidable by simply utilizing the 811 system and utilizing safe excavation practices. Unfortunately, water facilities are often subject to enhanced risk of damage incidents
due to excavation activities. They are not legally required to participate in the 811 system like other underground utilities. Unfortunately, I see weekly headlines and local news stories about businesses and schools that cannot operate or boiled water notices issued to protect public health because water infrastructure has been damaged in what was often an avoidable situation.
Nine out of ten times, when I see, read, or hear about this type of event or
get a call from a concerned legislator about a constituent concern, the entity responsible for water services does not participate in the Texas811 system. How can you “know what’s below,” a term commonly used in damage prevention, if you aren’t in the 811 system?
Incidents involving water service disruptions are especially sensitive when businesses, schools, and hospitals lose water service. These incidents often end up in the evening news or
the local paper. While unfortunate and embarrassing, these avoidable incidents have provided numerous opportunities for outreach from Texas811 staff, leading to hundreds of water utilities coming on board and voluntarily joining the 811 system to avoid future disruptions and expensive repairs to damaged facilities.
When the Texas Legislature passed the first comprehensive safe digging and one call law in 1999, they identified
two types of facilities. Class A includes underground facilities used to “produce, store, convey, transmit, or distribute
electrical energy, natural or synthetic gas, petroleum or petroleum products, steam, any form of telecommunications service, including voice, data, video,
or optical transmission, or cable television service, or any other liquid, material, or product not defined as a Class B underground facility.” Class
B facilities include “water, slurry or sewage.” The key distinction here is that Class A facilities are legally required
to participate in the 811 system, while Class B facilities can voluntarily opt into the system’s protections. Class
B’s that opt into the system can even petition to change their designation to be converted into Class A facilities.
All Class A Facilities in Texas must participate in the One Call system
and comply with the One Call law. At the time the original law was written, resulting in Texas Utilities Code 251, gas, electric, and telecommunications facilities were effectively deemed “critical infrastructure” before the term was a part of the vocabulary, with an acknowledgment that there could be potentially dire circumstances as the result of damage to facilities related
to safety and public health were these facilities to incur damage. Federal law also mandated certain facilities opt into the one call system which predates the advent and rollout of the national “811” telephone number in 2005. Even though water facilities play a critical role in supporting the daily lives of Texans, providing clean and reliable water for consumption, sanitation, and various industrial purposes, water facilities were not required to participate in the one call system.
So why wasn’t water included in federal or state law related to damage prevention?
There are two reasons. First, historically, water and water infrastructure have largely been
undervalued, taken for granted, and subject to underinvestment at every level of government. There is also an uninformed viewpoint that damage to water facilities does not present a public health or safety hazard. Therefore, participation of water and wastewater facilities in federal one-call was not mandated by Congress or the Texas State Legislature.
In the last decade, we have seen a
shift in the mindset of Texans about
the value of water in our society. High-profile incidents of water system failures and recurring drought patterns have resulted in a much greater understanding that water and the integrity of our water infrastructure are vital parts of a well-functioning society and driving forces in our economy. This has resulted in numerous new state water infrastructure funding programs in Texas over the last decade, as Texans and policymakers acknowledge that water is critical for our way of life.
We are also acutely aware that current water supplies and infrastructure cannot keep up with Texas’ exponential growth without significant investment and conservation strategies to meet
our water needs. Since 2000, the
Texas population has surged by 43 percent, and we are projected to see
an additional increase of 70%, equal
to almost 20 million new Texans in
the next 50 years. According to the most recent 2022 State Water Plan, Texas faces a potential shortage of
3.1 million acre-feet in the present
day to 6.9-million-acre feet in 2070 if drought trends and population growth trends continue. These projections are based on solid data & science around population growth and water use trends developed in a regionally based process that identifies key trends and strategies to meet our water supply and water infrastructure needs.
8 • Texas811 2024, Issue 1

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