“Next you’ll be telling me santa’s not real!”

Without going into too much minutiae, I measure water tables in test holes for a living. Basically I run equipment down individual boreholes and take measures that help predict how much water the well is capable of pumping. It’s not exact, but it does take precise, scientific measurements and translates them into graph form. When coupled with the well driller’s data, these logs can be pretty accurate, although it’s still an “educated guess” scenario.

Now, for most agricultural (read: large-diameter high production farm water wells for irrigation) wells, one of these logs is run. What we charge is an mere side-note in the total cost of these wells. It’s a small price to pay for a very good picture of what water is available at that spot. It just doesn’t make sense to do without, it’d be a little like just forgoing an easily obtained medical test in lieu of a good guess from a doctor. They’re probably right, but it’s just worth it to know for sure.

Now given what we do, given the driller’s lifetimes of experience, you’d think the landowners and people we work with would be beyond the hocus-pocus and superstitions. We live in an age of science, proof and reason. Using common sense and the verifiable tools available, it seems like we could be pretty reasonable about this process.

But every single fucking time water witchers are brought up, I die a little inside. I die because I can’t say anything. I die because the truth doesn’t actually matter, all that matters is that they believe that witchers work. The mention of getting the right dowser out, the one that they know works, makes me both shudder and want to laugh. I’ve logged countless holes in places dowsers have chosen as the exact, perfect spot to find water, often accompanied by predictions on how deep the company should drill and how much water the farmer will get, so long as the drillers do exactly as they say.

There is no verifiable proof that dowsing actually works. You can compile your personal ancedotes, the friends who say they can, and family members who swear they can, but that doesn’t make it real. That only makes for a pile of stories that are all victims of confirmation bias. Start with just the actual process of dowsing- any minor amount of research will introduce you to the process of the ideomotor effect. If you don’t believe me, bend any wire into a rod, grab any Y branch or pick up any old pendulum and you’ll experience it. Through the mere suggestion that something should happen, our minds will cause muscle movements that result in the expected outcome, albeit completely under the radar of our conscious minds. In the field, while we still tried to convince people otherwise, we used bent welding rods and passed them out to drillers to play Water Witcher with.

And beyond this, I’ve logged countless holes behind dowsers, and the vast majority are nothing like what they promised the land owner or drillers. A lot of these are completely shit holes, about as many as you’d expect from shooting an arrow into a field and drilling wherever it lands. Many are worse-the most useless holes I’ve ever logged have been witched. These are locations that are picked with no common sense at all. In a lot of situations, local knowledge can be compiled to make a pretty decent estimation of the most likely place to find water, but why not throw these considerations out the window to do whatever the man with the magic sticks says?

An interesting fact about the valley as well: most places you drill, you’ll find water. Actually, in most places you drill, you’ll find some amount of water. Even in the face of science and logic, the dowsers are right often enough to make all the wrong guesses not count. (We call this, “counting the hits and ignoring the misses”)

Now, if Neighbor Rick comes and walks around your field with his grandfather’s pendulum and picks out a spot to drill, fantastic. I hope he’s right, as everything done by the drillers is measured by the foot and second test holes aren’t free, but whatever. If he “finds” water, you both win. He gets a notch in his belt, and you get water. But the truth of it is that most people who use dowsers hire dowsers. They pay people to come and use their divination, at upwards of $1000 a pop. We charge less than that, by a few hundred. It’s one thing to be misguided yourself, it’s another to cost people time, money and resources because you’re lying to yourself.

If you can’t tell, this rubs me the wrong way. I’ve heard so many anecdotes and cute little stories that people are sure will change my mind, but they’re nothing but just that-cute stories. In the last 5 days, I’ve done two separate logs on the same property, maybe 250 feet from each other. I’ll be going back sometime in the next week or two to do a third log. And when I asked the field manager about the third test hole, you know what he told me?

That they had to get the right dowser to drive the hour out to this cow field to pick a new spot. Because THE FIRST TWO DOWSERS COULDN’T AGREE WHERE TO DRILL, AND THEY WERE BOTH WRONG. I believe the comment he used was, “they couldn’t agree where to drill, that should have been the first warning sign.” No, I’m sorry. The first warning sign was that you were using a dowser. Or three.

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2 thoughts on ““Next you’ll be telling me santa’s not real!”

  1. When I went into the military, about *cough* years ago, my peacetime job was plumbing. I was young and didn’t really have any experience at all. During that initial training, I learned many valuable things. Shit flows downhill. How pumps work. How to install fixtures and repair leaking or damaged pipes.

    But looking back, I remember one day when our instructor (a member of the Navy civil engineers; they called themselves the “SeaBees”) took us outside to learn the basics of dowsing. At that point in my life, I didn’t have a fully developed bullshit detector. He said that dowsing was simple, and that all you needed was two bent copper wires. If you walked over a water pipe or electrical conduit, they would rotate and cross when you were directly over them.

    To demonstrate, he laid out a water hose, turned on the water, and let us try it for ourselves. I was amazed when it worked! It was right there in front of my eyes. I walked back and forth across the hose, and it never failed. My dad even occasionally used it, so I had no reason to think that this wasn’t some kind of really cool effect that I just uncovered.

    Thankfully I never relied on dowsing when in the military or any other job. Looking back, I’m a bit horrified that dowsing was even acceptable to mention in the military. They certainly don’t acknowledge any other kinds of magic (unless you count DoD psychic trials).

    I kind of forgot about it until I stumbled across this video somewhere: http://youtu.be/cqoYrSd94kA

    This was when I believe the first spark of skepticism was struck in my thoughts. I’d been scientifically literate for a while, but skepticism is something else. A bullshit detector is an essential element to your mental toolkit.

    It’s disheartening to see that such ridiculous lore is still held onto, even in your field where it can be a detriment to someone’s wallet. Keep on calling out BS where you see it!

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