Last year, we learned that Iraqi security forces had wasted approximately $60 million by purchasing expensive “divining rods” that were supposed to detect bombs. These objects worked like an Ouija board — users thought they were getting “signs” when the reality was that nothing was happening.
It turns out something similar is going on in the UK, where nearly a dozen companies have admitted to using divining (or dowsing) rods to detect leaks or figure out where to dig for water. While there are variations on how these rods work, the version we’re talking about here involves holding two sticks out in front of you, parallel to each other. You walk around the area, and if the rods “detect” water, they’ll pull themselves toward each other and cross. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.
Also ridiculous? The water companies admitted using divining rods to science writer and YouTuber Sally Le Page.
We do have some techs that still have them in the van and use them if they need to, however we prefer to use listening sticks and other methods. Thanks, Holly
— Severn Trent (@stwater) November 20, 2017
— Yorkshire Water (@YorkshireWater) November 20, 2017
Hi Sally, as far as I'm aware, divination isn't used but there have been occasions where we've used dowsing rods. But mainly we use our listening sticks (a device that allows us to hear the water underground). Hope this helps, Jacqui
— Anglian Water (@AnglianWater) November 21, 2017
Hello Sally, I believe sometimes they do
— Northumbrian Water (@nwater_care) November 21, 2017
We can advise that these are techniques that Scottish Water use to detect pipework rather than underground leaks. ^Jennifer
— Scottish Water (@scottish_water) November 21, 2017
Hi @sallylepage, yes on occasions we use divining or dowsing rods to locate water mains however they are not accurate 100% of the time.
— SouthWestWater Help (@SWWHelp) November 21, 2017
I've just asked our technical customer services staff and they advise me, yes we do use them sometimes. Please give them a call on 0330 303 0368 if you would like more details. Kind regards Jane
— Southern Water (@SouthernWater) November 21, 2017
Hi Sally, sorry about the delay. Some of our techs do on occasion use dowsing rods 1/2
— Thames Water (@thameswater) November 21, 2017
Hi Sally, thanks for your tweet. Yes we do still use these from time to time Is there anything I can help with? Thanks, Lauren
— United Utilities (@unitedutilities) November 21, 2017
Overall, Le Page says, 10 of the 12 companies she contacted use or allow divination as a way to detect… something. Even though there is literally zero evidence that they work. It’s a waste of time, money, and resources.
Imagine contacting local doctors about a persistent pain in your abdomen and one of them tells you to rub a heavily scented oil on your body. Not only would that be bad advice; you’d want to warn people to stay away from this doctor who doesn’t understand the first thing about science.
While these companies use actual, scientific methods to detect water and leaks, the fact that they include divining rods in their toolkit — or at the very least, don’t explicitly reject them — should be embarrassing for all of them.
What’s next? Advertising their reliance on witchcraft?
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to everyone for the link)