Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures.
September 15, 2014
Outside of a farmhouse on a 1,800-acre organic dairy farm near Oroville,California, Sharron Hope bends over a printout of a Google Earth map, holding a small jade Buddha pendant. The map shows a small section of the farm to the east, and Hope is hunting for water. As the pendant swings, she notes a subtle change in motion that, she says, indicates she has found some.
Hope is a water dowser, or someone who uses intuition, energy vibrations and divining rods or pendulums to mark the best spots for wells.
As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.
Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser, such as Hope.
Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.
“I’ve gotten far more calls this year from farmers looking for a water dowser than in most years,” says Sacramento-based Donna Alhers, who heads the Sierra Dowsers, a chapter of the American Society of Dowsers.
Water dowsers from around the state are also seeing a spike in demand. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people whose wells have run dry,” Hope says.