Chas Jones, Ph.D.

The state of groundwater knowledge: Following the dowsing rod

The state of groundwater knowledge: Following the dowsing rod

A good number of farmers, vineyards, and ranchers actually hire “Water witches” to find water on their property in drought stricken California.  I assume that their “belief” in the ability of dowsing rods to locate “underground rivers” is not uncommon among the population at large across the United States.  The fact is that the public has very little understanding of groundwater and groundwater aquifers, which is primarily the fault of the inability or lack of interest of the hydrologic community to help to educate them.  Most groundwater aquifers are not going to have the ability to be tapped in a very specific location rather than another location hundreds of feet in any particular direction. Groundwater systems are do not typically have boundaries as clearly defined as the edge of a river.  In fact the hydrologic system associated with a river doesn’t stop at its banks, but actually extends into the local or regional groundwater system associated with its floodplains, riparian areas, and neighboring wetlands.

The implications of how groundwater systems function means that a “Water witch” trying to use dowsing rods to locate a precise location at which to drill to tap into groundwater is really not a doing a farmer much of a favor.  If the farmer drilled at a similar ground elevation in the valley a few hundred feet in any direction would be equally as likely to identify a water source.  The use of dowsing rods to locate groundwater drilling locations is similar to hiring astrologers to predict our future.  While they may find water, it was as if they were throwing darts at a wall.  They were very likely to find water no matter of the location that they identified and it is more likely that a farmer just lined someone’s pocket with $500 that has no real ability to identify water that couldn’t have been found by drilling an exploratory well.

A bunch of articles were produced over the last day or two that reference reports by USGS  about the use dowsing rods.  For more information, the USGS has printed reports about water dowsing (available at this link) and the history of water dowsing (available here).  I recommend that anyone interested in hiring “water witch” to find drillable water, take a look at the USGS reports.  You may learn a thing or two and save yourself $500.

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