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SF Chronicle: Desperate Farmers Turning to 'Water Witches'

SF Chronicle: Desperate Farmers Turning to 'Water Witches'

The severe California drought is prompting farmers and vintners to hire dowsers, AKA “water witches,” to locate water underground, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The harshness of the drought has cut the normal quantity of water delivered to farmers, forcing them to use their wells. But with the wells running dry, and the much-higher cost of hiring geologists, dowsers are finding themselves overwhelmed with requests.

Napa Valley vintner Marc Mondavi also is a dowser. He told the Chronicle, “Pretty much all the farmers I know won’t drill a well if they don’t have a dowser. Pretty much all of my weekends are spent dowsing. I’m backlogged.” Mondavi has worked for Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena and Bronco Wine Co. in Stanislaus County as well as his family’s winery, Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena.

Rob Thompson, who lives in Santa Rosa and is a third-generation dowser, likewise said he got calls from a Fresno farmer, a Napa Valley vintner, and a Yreka rancher. “I’m two or three weeks backlogged right now,” he said. He added, “I use stainless steel rods to point me to the best place to drill and when I get over it the rods cross. I use a pendulum to figure out how deep the well will be and how many gallons per minute (it will produce). I’ve been very successful doing that.”

The ancient practice of dowsing, which dates back from 5,000 to 10,000 years, involves using a forked stick, rods or pendulum to divine where water, oil, or gold may be found. Dowsers claim they can not only find water, but often estimate how much water is available and how deep underground it lies.

There are plenty of skeptics; the U.S. Geological Survey, an independent federal research agency, asserts that there are simply areas in which the water underground is ubiquitous, making a dowser’s job fairly easy. 

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