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).