CA Farmers Turning to Dowsing

Those of you who have been involved with organized skepticism for any significant length of time likely know about dowsing, an absurd bit of supernatural nonsense that says you can find water with two “divining rods” and a gut feeling. California farmers are so desperate for water due to the calamitous drought there that they’re turning to dowsers for help.

While both state and federal water scientists disapprove of dowsing, California “witchers” are busy as farmers seek to drill more groundwater wells due to the state’s record drought that persists despite recent rain.

The nation’s fourth-largest wine maker, Bronco Wine Co., says it uses dowsers on its 40,000 acres of California vineyards, and dozens of smaller farmers and homeowners looking for wells on their property also pay for dowsers. Nationwide, the American Society of Dowsers, Inc. boasts dozens of local chapters, which meet annually at a conference.

“It’s kind of bizarre. Scientists don’t believe in it, but I do and most of the farmers in the Valley do,” said Marc Mondavi, a vineyard owner whose family has been growing grapes and making wine since the mid-20th century in the Napa Valley.

Mondavi doesn’t just believe in dowsing, he practices it.

On a recent afternoon, standing in this family’s Charles Krug vineyard holding two copper divining rods, Mondavi walked slowly forward through the dormant vines.

After about 40 feet, the rods quickly crossed and Mondavi — a popular dowser in the world famous wine region— stopped. “This is the edge of our underground stream,” he said during the demonstration. Mondavi said he was introduced to “witching” by the father of an old girlfriend, and realized he had a proclivity for the practice.

After the valley’s most popular dowser died in recent years, Mondavi has become the go-to water witch in Napa Valley. He charges about $500 per site visit, and more, if a well he discovers ends up pumping more than 50 gallons per minute.

It’s amazing how closely making money from a bullshit idea correlates with one’s belief in that bullshit idea. I hear it works even better if you sprinkle a little chicken blood on the rods and throw some salt over your left shoulder (never your right should — it doesn’t work if you do that).

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  • My memory is not 100% clear on it, but I seem to have heard that “dowsers” (interesting spelling for “grifters”) cannot charge for their use of the “gift”. The way it went when a friend of mine hired a guy to dig his well was that he only had to pay the guy to dig the well. I wonder if the frackheadz down in Pennsyltucky are requiring that Mobil Exxon and the other “Resource extraction” bidnetheth are requiring, in any contracts they sign, that dowsers are used to find both gas and a new potable water source when their current well catches fire.

  • thompjs

    I live south of Houston and you can pick any spot and drill down and pass through at least 3 different aquifers.

    Dowsing always works here!


  • raven

    California almond farmers face tough choices

    .By SCOTT SMITH11 hours ago Feb 24, 2014

    FIREBAUGH, Calif. (AP) — With California’s agricultural heartland entrenched in drought, almond farmers are letting orchards dry up and in some cases making the tough call to have their trees torn out of the ground, leaving behind empty fields.


    Drawing well water is a bad option, he said. Their wells sink 2,400 feet below ground in his region of the Central Valley, providing water that’s unhealthy and compromises the crops for years, if the trees survive at all, he said.

    California is one of the world’s most heavily ground water irrigated areas.

    Or was. They’ve been draining the aquifiers for decades. In the central valley, in some places the water table is now 2,400 feet deep and the water is salty. Much of the central valley used to be a wetland.

    This is what happens when your water mine runs out. That and the perennial California water wars.

    PS This 3 year drought might be in part due to global warming. Most models predict the rain belts will move north and California was a dry state to begin with. Standard disclaimer, No one event can be ascribed etc..

  • I wonder if the frackheadz down in Pennsyltucky are requiring that Mobil Exxon and the other “Resource extraction” bidnetheth are requiring, in any contracts they sign, that dowsers are used to find both gas and a new potable water source when their current well catches fire.

    No, they’re using science because there’s big money at stake for them. Mostly they’re shooting buried explosives and mapping the subsurface density based on how the shockwaves propagate through the rock.

    I live in N. central PA and fracking madness is in full swing up here.

  • Sastra

    Dowsing is very easy to test, and apparently ‘dowsers’ are the #1 category of applicants for the James Randi $1 million challenge. Since so many dowsers have not only “seen it work” again and again but really felt the pull on the dowsing rods they are unusually confident. When they do a “dry run” under controlled conditions (i.e. the water is properly hidden but they know where it is) it all works perfectly, allowing most of them to predict 100% accuracy once they don’t know where the water really is. Many of them also insist that anything less than 90% accuracy will make them give up dowsing forever. You bet!

    None of them ever do better than chance. And iirc none of them ever give up dowsing.

    Dowsing is testable. The fact that the dowsers invariably come up with bizarre excuses for the unexpected failure is an immunizing strategy, not intrinsic to the nature of dowsing. They’d accept a positive result.

    While both state and federal water scientists disapprove of dowsing …

    Note the use of the term “disapprove,” as if the objection against the “water witches” were a moral or religious one (or both, like when fundamentalists “disapprove of” or “don’t believe in” psychics, who are of the devil and not of God.)

  • nemistenem

    You had to know this was coming in our scientifically illiterate, myth-loving country. And astrology should help, too. Or, maybe they should call Gov. Perry to arrange a let it rain prayer session – equally (in)effective.

  • busterggi

    Dig deep enough pretty much anywhere and you’ll find water – its a miracle!

  • @4:

    Yeah, I know about the PA fracking.

    Various astroturfroots organizations are running ads that air on Syracuse radio stations touting the job creation and $B to be earned by the locals if they will just get over their silly fear of having their fucking lives destroyed by the process.

  • I wonder how many of these farmers are global warming “skeptics.”

  • Ichthyic

    I’ve been using dowsing rods for years to detect irony in internet posts.

  • Ex Patriot

    I suspect that dowsing is about as reallity based as talking to some sky being to bring rain. I think Texas found out how well that worked, didn’t they get wild fires instead