Some refer to it as “dowsing,” “doodlebugging,” or “water witching”—the practice of using a forked stick or rods to locate underground water. It sounds mysterious, but this practice has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
So why revive water witching today?
Well, vineyard and farm operators in California are experiencing some of the worst drought conditions in decades. They’re getting desperate for new water sources as their wells run dry and reservoirs hit record low levels.
Rather than have faith in hydrogeologists and “science,” vineyard and farm operators are putting their trust in water witches.
In Sonoma County, California, an area known for wineries, Rob Thompson, a water diviner, said the drought has increased business many folds. He said this is the “busiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”
Thompson’s claim to fame is that he formerly owned one of Northern California’s largest well-drilling companies. He’s been in the business for decades and claims to have found thousands of groundwater sites across the state.
“This is the worst drought I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Thompson said. “In California, we’re going deeper and deeper,” he said, adding that farmers and land managers are drilling deeper to access groundwater.
Thompson uses rods to locate groundwater in the fractures of the earth’s bedrock. The method has been rejected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as there’s no science to support it.
But that doesn’t stop Johnnie White, the operations manager of Piña Vineyard Management, who runs dozens of vineyards in Napa Valley.
“I haven’t ever used a geologist to find water,” White said, who acknowledged water witching sounds a bit “far fetched.”
Davie Piña, the owner of the vineyard management company, called the drought situation in the state a “disaster” and had a gloomy outlook for the future.
While water witching sounds a bit odd, a German study conducted in the 1990s spanned a decade that paired geologists and dowsers in Africa to drill for water and see how accurate they were. In Sri Lanka alone, drill teams drilled 691 wells under the guidance of dowsers and discovered water 96% of the time.
Now the argument that USGS makes is that “water exists under the Earth’s surface almost everywhere.” So it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
Nevertheless, for whatever reason, farmers and land managers across California are desperate enough to turn to water witches to save their operations from turning into dust.
Still curious about water witching? Here’s a video on water witching 101.