Dowsing is based on magical thinking. In desperate times, people will reach for anything.
With California in the grips of drought, farmers throughout the state are using a mysterious and some say foolhardy tool for locating underground water: dowsers, or water witches.
Practitioners of dowsing use rudimentary tools — usually copper sticks or wooden “divining rods” that resemble large wishbones — and what they describe as a natural energy to find water or minerals underground.
While both state and federal water scientists disapprove of dowsing, California “witchers” are busy as farmers seek to drill more groundwater wells because of the state’s record drought that persists despite recent rain.
Winemaker Marc Mondavi notes the general feeling – scientists don’t buy dowsing but most of the people in the valley do, regardless that they are told it doesn’t work. And it really doesn’t. Dowsing has been tested COUNTLESS times under controlled conditions by thousands of dowsers around the world who SWEAR they can ace the scientific test. They NEVER do. Why? Well, because the idea of dowsing as they tell it – that they can detect water – is nonsense. There is no mechanism and the tests fail. What does help dowsers is that water is often found widespread underground. Hits are almost assured if you go deep enough with the exception of being in a low-yield rock formation. Even when in a low-yield formation, you can get lucky with fractures (look for a low area that probably is more eroded) or even grab a few gallons per minute and consider it a hit. The dowsers will tell the client, this is the best you can do here. And they are believed. So, hits are remembered, misses are minimized. That’s how dowsing works. I’d bet they fail just as much if not more than trained well drillers with hydrogeologists gathering data to tell them where to drill. It’s surely an art as well as a science but it involves some luck as well. Dowsers that have been doing this for a while have mastered the art and get lucky but there is zero science. It’s nonsense.
Mondavi is a dowser himself and is marketing a line of dowsing rods. Honestly, as a geologist, nothing makes me bang my head against a wall as watching people who swear by dowsing talk about “underground streams” and other such silliness. They are deluded into thinking this fully explained reaction is some kind of magic. Ridiculous.
Tip: Chip Denman