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 Science VS Water Witchers

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PostSubject: Science VS Water Witchers   Fri Aug 03, 2007 1:36 pm

In Race to Find Water,
It's Science vs. 'Witchers'


By MALIA WOLLAN
August 3, 2007


NAPA, Calif. -- On a recent afternoon here at the Delectus Winery, Rob Thompson tapped two thin metal rods to the ground. Holding the rods in front of him, he slowly pirouetted, staring down into the dust. When the rods swiveled in his hands, he mumbled to his instruments: "40 gallons at 200 feet? 50 gallons at 210 feet? 30 gallons at 235 feet?"

Miles from a mainstream water supply, Mr. Thompson was looking for water to create a well for the winery. He says the rods help signal water, crossing when near what he calls "water veins." The rods, he says, move on their own. He typically will mark a water source, indicate how many feet below the surface it's located, and how many gallons per minute it's likely to yield. He says he gets all the information through intuition.





Rob Thompson using rods to look for water

Mr. Thompson, 39 years old, is a "witcher" or "dowser" -- someone who says that they can detect underground water using twigs, rods or a pendulum. He's one of what the American Society of Dowsers estimates to be more than 1,500 water witchers in the U.S., many of whom are paid for their services. Even though many geologists say the field is unscientific, Mr. Thompson says business has never been better.

That's because Western states such as California and Arizona are experiencing a well-drilling boom, amid one of the driest stretches in years and a surge of new properties being built in areas off the municipal water system.

Property developers typically look to modern technology first, hiring geologists to search for water using high-tech tools such as satellite imagery and magnetotellurics (a method of creating images of things beneath the earth's surface).

But because their investments could flop without a water source, developers building luxury resorts, orchards and wineries off the water grid aren't taking any chances. Some are hiring witchers as well as geologists, pitting them against each other in the water hunt. Meanwhile, some well drillers have witchers on staff. Other drillers offer witcher referrals or subcontract with independent witchers.

Steve Arthur, vice president of Arthur & Orum Well Drilling Inc. in Fresno, Calif., says that witchers can be effective. "Our customers just want water and dowsers find water," says Mr. Arthur.

Delectus, the winery, hired Mr. Thompson after geologists' data purportedly led to dry wells. Mr. Thompson charges $200 an hour, plus $10 for each gallon per minute produced in a well he has located. He gets paid his hourly rate whether or not he finds water. When a well yields abundant water, he says he can make $7,500 in a day's work, though he sees only a couple such days a year.

Mr. Thompson began water witching as an 11-year-old. The profession runs in his family -- his uncle and his grandfather were also witchers.

People who claim the ability to locate groundwater have been around for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the witchers' divining rod was used in the mines of Western Europe in the 16th century. Witchers explain their abilities in myriad ways -- faith in God, electrical impulses, magnetic fields and intuition chief among them. Most witchers say anyone can learn to do it.

Water witching raises many geologists' hackles. The scientific community tends to explain any success witchers have by saying they look for signs of water on the earth's surface, such as changes in vegetation.

George Dunfield, chief of the professional-standards unit at the California Board of Geologists and Geophysicists, says many witchers are frauds who swindle customers. But water witchers, he says, are protected by the First Amendment. Mr. Dunfield says by hiring a witcher, consumers are essentially signing onto a religious doctrine "like voodoo" and the state can do little to protect them. He says there have been a growing number of complaints recently from people who say they paid witchers to find water and were led to dry wells.

Enforcement officers from the California geologists' board and the Contractors State Licensing Board are now planning sting operations targeting witchers and well drillers who use them, says Mr. Dunfield. While low-tech witching isn't illegal, a few witchers who purport to be scientists and use high-tech equipment such as radar to supplement their witching are violating a 1968 law that bans practicing geology without a license.

All of this hasn't stopped some thirsty developers from turning to witchers as a hedge against geologists. When a group of investors called Aqua Trac LLC launched a $160 million 57-mile water pipeline project in western Nevada in 2005, they hired geologist Walt Martin to locate groundwater.

But the Aqua Trac investors also hired a witcher named Jack Coel. "We've seen dowsers find wells out on ranches where no one's ever found water before," says investor Tom Gallagher, a fifth-generation Nevadan who grew up ranching. "We just wanted to have all our bases covered before spending a few million dollars drilling."

One of the coordinates Mr. Coel provided ultimately produced a 5,000-gallons-per-minute water gusher. Even Mr. Martin, the geologist, concedes he was impressed. "He was within a stone's throw of the locations I chose," says Mr. Martin.

When winemaker Gerhard Reisacher looked to buy Delectus Winery, located on a previously dry mountainside outside Calistoga, Calif., in late 2004, his purchase was contingent on finding water. "I put the geologists' report down, picked up the phone and called a water witcher," he says.

Mr. Thompson began work at the 112-acre winery in October 2004 and promptly located a well-drilling spot that yielded more than 265 gallons of water per minute. To find water, he says he follows a few basic rules: to trust himself and to stay hydrated, since "you can't find water if you're thirsty," he says.

In May 2006, Mr. Thompson was tasked with finding water for the Napa Valley golf course and estate homes project. He's being pit against a hydrogeologist on the project.

Mr. Thompson believes that finding water is becoming all too easy. "What I'd really like is to try dowsing for oil," he says.
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PostSubject: Re: Science VS Water Witchers   Sun Aug 05, 2007 11:43 am


Divining water witches: Seeking with a forked twig




Most dowsers say they are born with a capacity to locate underground water by channeling its energy, or something loopy and twitchy of that kind yet to be named by science.

By Delphine Schrank, Washington Post

Last update: August 04, 2007 4:18 PM

On a sloping patch of withered grass at his Clarke County, Va., farm one recent afternoon, William Cross did what any seasoned farmer touched with the gift will do in search of a spot to dig a well. With his leathery hands, he gripped the handles of two L-shaped copper rods, held them parallel, tucked his elbows into his ribs, puffed out his chest, marched a few paces back and forth, and silently bid the Earth to reveal its watery secrets.
Within seconds, the rods appeared to respond, flung across each other by what Cross described as the hand of an invisible force.
"There they go!" said the 82-year-old grandfather and former book publisher -- and part-time water witch.
Also known as dowsers, most water witches say they are born with a capacity to locate underground water by channeling its energy, or electromagnetism, or something loopy and twitchy of that kind that has yet to be named by science, through a pair of metal rods, a forked twig, a coat hanger, a pendulum or, in rare cases, acutely alert fingers.
In summers past, rural residents sometimes summoned a dowser to seek water when wells dried up or droughts hit. A dry spell this summer has led Maryland and Virginia to seek drought relief for farmers and could prod more homeowners to turn to dowsers to find productive wells. But well drillers today are often uneasy with the practice.
"You're going to get me in trouble," Bob Leazer, of Leazer Brothers Drilling and Pump Co., based in Remington in Fauquier County, Va., responded when asked if he employs dowsers to locate the wells his company drills in 13 Virginia counties. "I've seen a lot of people that used dowsers, and I've seen 'em hit and I've seen 'em miss. And I can't say if it works."
Some people decry dowsing as the handiwork of the devil; some laud it as a gift from God. Others, in the name of rational skepticism, just call it bunk. Yet the tradition endures. If you're going to spend a small fortune poking holes in your back yard to find water, the thinking goes, you might as well try poking a spot marked -- often free of charge -- by a water witch.
David Shirley, 47, of Shirley Well Drilling in Stephenson, Va., is a third-generation dowser. His father preferred fresh limbs cut from a cherry or willow tree, but Shirley uses brass rods to pinpoint and drill where he believes underground streams cross -- a prime location for a multigallon-per-minute well. He will dowse only if clients permit, but nearly all do, said his wife, Jackie.
Detractors say there's no hard proof that the method works.
The National Ground Water Association has published a brochure titled "Before You Hire a Water Witch" and declares itself "strongly opposed" to the practice. Experiments have shown that the odds of finding water through dowsing are no better than random attempts and that rods lack special powers, said Cliff Treyens, the association's public awareness director.
"If I could hire a dowser to find 200-gallons-a-minute wells, I would fire all my Ph.D. scientists," added Jamie Emery of Emery and Garrett Groundwater Inc. in New Hampshire. His company, which works on Northern Virginia projects, uses satellite imagery, and seismic and geophysical tools to find potential well sites. But those methods can cost tens of thousands of dollars for a study in a small subdivision, out of the price range of many homeowners. Several dowsers who were interviewed said they work for free or charge a nominal fee.
Hydrogeologists say there is a strong chance of hitting groundwater wherever one digs. Dowsers and their supporters say that misses the point.
"You know there's water down there, but you want to hit it within short order, and you don't want to hit haphazardly," said Peter Holden, a Purcellville, Va., farmer who is a liaison to the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He said dowsers found him plentiful supplies on three properties.
The use of twigs and rods dates to biblical times, dowsers say. Over the centuries, practitioners uttered incantations to empower rods with divine grace to seek water and other hidden substances, from precious metals to lost cats to bad vibes. Lore has it that the term "water witch" derives not from a description of a person but rather from the witch hazel branches preferred by Anglo-Scottish immigrants.
Dowsers themselves debate how to define their practice, said Arvid Johnson, operations manager of the 3,000-member American Society of Dowsers, based in Vermont. But they agree on the need for a clear mind and sharp focus.
"It's kind of like a hammer is to a carpenter. The hammer doesn't build the house; the carpenter does. The rod doesn't find water; the dowser does," said dowser Tom Stewart, 61, of North Carolina, who recently retired as a teacher and started an online business selling his homemade rods.
John Fincham Jr., 72, of Winchester, has a penchant for his pendulum, an amethyst quartz stone hanging from a fine chain. By spinning clockwise for yes or counterclockwise for no, the pendulum channels a magnetism of sorts to answer questions that transcend matter, Fincham said. On Cross' property in Clarke County's Berryville one recent day, the pendulum oscillated sharply as Fincham posed questions about water depth and flow.
Cross had called Fincham, who learned the art of dowsing at a school in Arkansas, for a second opinion about where to drill a new well.
"Relax. Don't try to grip 'em. Elbows by your sides," said Fincham, coaching his friend with the 18-inch rods.
But until Cross finds $2,000 to get a driller and permits, the presence of water at this spot would remain, rather like his knack with rods, an enigma.
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