California drought renews interest in 'water witching'

California drought renews interest in 'water witching'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — As a bone-dry state, some in California are turning to an old-time solution for the current drought.

Use of so-called "water witching" is up in some areas, but in Kern County some well drillers say they’ve always depended on the guys with sticks or metal rods to search out ground water.

"The only well that I've ever hit that was dry, is the well that was un-witched down in Twin Oaks," Crown Drilling's Gordon Davidson told Eyewitness News on Tuesday.

Davidson said he uses a witcher, or "dowser," to look for water in Kern County's mountain areas. He believes in their track record, and the benefits.

"We always usually find shallower water and more water," Davidson said. Getting more water, and closer to the surface, saves money if you're drilling a well.

He just used a witcher on a 15-acre site near South Lake, not far from Lake Isabella.

Dowser John Collins had walked the parcel, identified where he thinks there is underground water, and now a stake marks that spot.

"You probably could have sunk a hole and probably hit water," David Bulgarelli said. "But with water witchers, it's almost guaranteed."

Bulgarelli's planning to build a home on the parcel, and he hired Davidson to drill the water well. Bulgarelli was out there the day Collins picked the location for the well.

"It's kind of amazing," Bulgarelli said. The witcher said he could tell where there's an underground stream or river of water.

"Water normally runs up here north and south," Collins explained. "So, I walk east and west."

He walks, holding out two brass rods.

"They're three feet long, and I bent them about 10 inches over at the end," Collins said.

He said when the two rods cross over, that's one edge of an underground stream of water. When they uncross, that's the other edge. Demonstrating on Bulgarelli's property on Tuesday, Collins marked off those spots in the dirt.

Collins said he started witching 40 years ago, when somebody just suggested he give it a try. He thinks a lot of people could spot water with witching rods.

"Fifty percent of the people that I've met can do it, but they don't know what they're doing," Collins said.

And, asked exactly how that happens, he can only speculate.

"It must be the electricity in your body, I'm not quite sure really what does it," he said.

Well driller Davidson said witching is important in mountain areas, where you're looking for water in granite rock underground.

"The only thing that you find water in is fissures, and cracks in the granite," he said.

Davidson said that in places like the San Joaquin Valley, around Bakersfield, it's a whole different picture.

"All the water flows in, and so you've got a big underground lake."

He said with that aquifer, water can be found anywhere.

Eyewitness News contacted several valley farmers, and they said water witchers aren't used in their areas. The growers all said they use more high-tech methods to find ground water for their crops.

Davidson said in the valley, ground water is located with technology similar to what's used to look for oil. But, he thinks the water witchers have just as much success with their methods.

"In our experience, they do just about as good a job," he said.

Near the area where Collins demonstrated witching, there are already two wells that supply water to some homes a ways past the property where Bulgarelli will build. He can't use that source, so Bulgarelli's drilling his own well.

But, it's clear there is water in the general area. And, skeptics argue there's water just about everywhere, so witchers don't have any special skill in finding underground sources.

"No, there's not water everywhere," Davidson countered. "I know of lots of dry wells that have been drilled by drillers that didn't have them witched."

Davidson said he's drilled 19 years in central Oregon, and then 28 years in Kern County areas. He believes in the witchers. There was only that one well when he didn't use that help.

He's confident the site in South Lake will produce water and said they'll drill that in about a week when the county permit is ready.

Collins said he's worked in Kern County around Lake Isabella and Tehachapi. East of the Sierras, he's witched for water in the Big Pine area. He's been at it for about 40 years.

"I've probably witched 400 to 600 wells, and I've been very successful," Collins said. "To be truthful with you, I don't know that I've ever missed."