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Originally published August 7 2015

Water witching now going mainstream in California as extreme drought causes farmers to turn to ancient art of dowsing

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) As California's drought stretches on and more and more wells go dry, demand is higher than ever for "water witches," people who are able to locate underground water using only a rod or stick and their own intuition. Also known as dowsers, water witches have been an essential part of California's farming culture since at least the 1500s, and the art may go back even farther than that.

"We've always used someone," said Guy Wollenman, a third-generation citrus farmer in California's Central Valley. "Most farmers do. They don't drill a hole without someone like Vern to help them find the best spots."

Drying wells lead to high demand

Wollenman was referring to Vern Tassey, one of the most sought-after dowsers in California. Tassey and his fellow dowsers are in high demand these days, as Californians of all stripes increasingly turn to spiritual assistance in a seemingly endless drought. Nearly 50 percent of the state is now under an "exceptional drought" (the highest classification on the drought scale), and hundreds of thousands of agricultural acres have been pulled out of production in a state that grows half the country's produce.

Many farmers have seen severe cuts to their irrigation allotments as the government scrambles to conserve dwindling water resources. These farmers have tried to make up the difference by pumping from wells -- but so many farmers are pumping that the aquifer is dropping fast, and the wells are drying up. Drilling deeper wells is a major investment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The state recommends that any farmer seeking to dig a new well first consult with a hydrogeologist to help pick a likely spot. But according to many farmers, dowsers deliver results that are just as accurate for only a fraction of the cost. Tassey, for example, charges just $100 per visit.

Farmers would not be turning to dowsers if they didn't trust their results. It costs thousands of dollars just to get on the waiting list to drill a well, and the list is months long. If the drilling fails to turn up water, farmers are out the cost of the drilling and need to pay to get back on the list.

Tassey does identify a promising spot for the Wollenman, indicated when the rod in his hand starts bouncing. And it's not the first time; Wollenman's parents also used Tassey's services.

"It's an energy of some sort," Wollenman said. "Like how some people can run a Ouija board. You either have it or you don't."

Widespread acceptance

Geologists condemn dousing as guesswork at best and fraud at worst, and claim there is no evidence that the practice works. But belief in "witching the land" runs deep in California. Governor Jerry Brown recently admitted to hiring two dowsers to survey land where he plans to build a retirement home. And Marc Mondavi, a 61-year-old water witch, counts some of the nation's top wine producers among his clientele - including Bronco Wine Company, the fourth-largest winemaker in the United States.

There is no official count of how many dowsers are at work in California or nationwide, as most are independent workers who operate via word of mouth. But the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are thousands, at least.

Mondavi and Tassey aren't bothered by the scorn that geologist heap on their profession.

"They think we're ridiculous, that it's all luck," Mondavi said. "I get it. There's no science that explains any of it."

But though he can't explain how or why it works, Mondavi said, he knows it does work.

As for Tassey, even being called a "witch" doesn't bother him, though it was inconvenient when he was interviewed by a local television station.

"The reporter asked me if I dabbled in witchcraft. Do I worship the devil?" Tassey said, and laughed.

After that, he said, he had trouble with some people at church.


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