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The Technology Benchmark

November 29, 2006
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Can you believe that it has been a year since I first wrote about my experiences with dowsing? I received more responses from readers on the topic of dowsing than any other topic I have written about in seven years.

The responses consisted of more than 100 E-mails and half a dozen letters, and I was also sent newspaper articles and several books on the topic of dowsing. Many responses were also posted on POB's bulletin board, RPLS.com, where many interesting and heated discussions took place. Because the responses to my article provided me with robust, quasi-

technical and sometimes surreal information, I thought I'd share some of them with the rest of POB's readers.

Implements of water witching.

The Believers

The following comments are taken from E-mails I received from supporters of dowsing. The vast majority of the respondents to my column were pro-dowsing. Some of the comments are condensed and/or edited for publishing purposes; however, the intent of the comments remains the same. Each of the comments was accompanied by one or more stories substantiating the writer's claims.
  • I am among the believers. I spent many years working on a survey party beginning circa 1973. The old-timers were quick to grab wires when we were searching for pipelines. I remember as a young party chief being given a sanitary force main location task. After everyone's hands were blistered from probing for the PVC pipe leaving a rural lift station, mutiny was close to reality. But I refused to give up and started divining. The wires crossed several times creating a 180-degree line. I bet the crew that I had found the line and they laughed, having never seen the divining practice. They uncovered the line and I ate lunch free for a week. -J. Stokes Jr., PSM
  • A surveyor showed me [dowsing] 23 years ago using pin flags. I have also seen telescopic rods that you can buy just for this. I have found many telephone lines, power lines, pipelines, etc. -J. Paulson, RLS
  • As a surveyor with much experience in topographic surveys to be used for large site designs, I have used dowsing many times. While I do believe there is a scientific explanation for dowsing, I also believe it is somewhat of an art form. Thank you for discussing this through POB. -M. Cassidy, LS
  • Thanks so much for writing the article on dowsing. Being an old-timer, I have come from a time when this was common practice. Dowsing is rather amazing. Like others, I use modern technology and use dowsing as the method of the last resort. The "why does it work?" question has always been a nebulous sort of question. -D. Ernst, LS, CWE
  • [Dowsing] works. I've seen it done effectively and [I have] learned to do it also. I felt the movement of the wires when held loosely. Science may not explain it, but it is still the simplest way to find PVC pipe in the moment without extra equipment. Science does not explain acupuncture, and yet it has worked for thousands of years and is often the most effective pain relief available. Too bad for science. -V. McEntire, LS
  • I, for one, am a true believer that dowsing really does work. This belief is based on my experiences in the field location of underground pipelines. I use dowsing on a regular basis and rely on it as a valuable tool in my bag of experience. I am a practicing surveyor of 38-plus years. Since my initial learning lesson on dowsing, I have used the technique myself and have found it to work with amazing results and accuracy. -D. Aylsworth, PLS
  • I used to rank water witching right up there with using a Ouija board to determine what the Kansas weather was going to be like a month into the future. Then something happened to me that made me become a believer. Years ago I was locating some utilities in Clearwater, Kan. The maintenance guy took out two wires, swung them around and walked around planting blue flags here and there. I didn't give any credit at all to dowsing, and I wasn't going to put something on my map like "waterline location randomly determined by dowsing and witchcraft." To my disbelief, the wires crossed, again and again. It worked for me, even when I didn't want it to work. I'm a believer now. -E. Cantu, LS
  • I have used dowsing to determine approximate location of underground lines many times over the last 25 years. The biggest obstacle I run into is that I cannot use it on windy days. The funny thing about it is that it is usually the last thing we use when trying to find a line, but I have never known it to fail. I personally feel that it works based on break in the magnetic field, which occurs in the ground as mentioned in your article. -S. Kluskiewicz, PLS
  • A lot of people know how and why dowsing works. It's not magic or rocket science. Your article got close a few times but failed to hit the bull's eye. Anybody who took high school physics should have learned that any matter (gas or liquid) moving through a conduit of any kind (including clay or plastic) sets up a weak magnetic field, [similar to] a bar magnet. The divining rods merely want to align themselves parallel to the lines of the magnetic field. Experimentation will show that the more matter (volume and velocity), the stronger the field and the easier it is to detect with this method. I've used this technique many times; sometimes it works well, sometimes not, depending on the factors and site conditions. Whether or not it works is consistent with the how and why of the physics involved. -A. Matricardi, PE, PLS
  • In my 35 years of service with the Department of Transportation, [I have] used divining many times to locate tile lines, pipes and manholes. I have [run into] believers and nonbelievers, but [I] have never failed to impress anyone who took the time to really watch the process all the way to success. Nothing convinces [people] like striking off across an open field armed only with the wires, a probe and directions from the resident farmer as to the approximate location of a tile line and being able to hit it time after time with the probe, guided only by the swinging wires. Dowsing works best in calm air. Too much wind will cause the wires to blow around, which adds to the disbelief. -D. Kunze
  • The article [on dowsing] in POB reminded me of my dowsing experience in Plain City, Ohio during the late "˜80s in preparation for a topographic survey of a field destined to become the city's most current development. We were asked by the engineers to locate all of the farmer's drain tile to be able to intercept the tributary flow from the adjoining fields into the new storm pipe system. We confiscated the wire from an old fence, bent the ends for handles and proceeded to the task of finding the existing drain tiles by the dark art of dowsing. Holding the two-foot pieces of wire loosely in each hand, each with a six-inch handle, I experienced the satisfaction of seeing the wire cross at each potential location. Thanks for the article and the good memories. -C. Scheeres, PS
  • Your recent article in POB concerning dowsing peaked my interest to say the least. Although I seldom do any dowsing now, I know from practical experience that dowsing works. I used a willow fork to locate water and the reaction [was] so violent that the bark peeled off in my hands. The sensitivity seems to vary from person to person and for some, it never works. Like any endeavor, dowsing must be learned and practiced. Dowsing is a tool that should be used along with other tools-common sense, observation and research. I seldom dowse anymore. Unfortunately, I often give in to peer pressure and use conventional methods for locating objects. It was nice to see a balanced and well-written article on this very useful and often maligned tool. Thanks for your courage and talent in writing the article. -J. Hunter PLS
  • I first came into contact with the use of the "Ouiji Sticks" about 40 years ago. I started working for a consulting engineering/surveying firm that was in the process of designing and supervising the installation of a borough-wide sewer system. This town already had a 50-year-old water system that needed an update of additional valves before the sewer installation began. Trying to use electronics to locate the existing system, buried below an eight-inch layer of slag that was poured in place as a street sub-base direct from the iron furnace, became an impossible job. Luck was with us. One of the people in the construction crew was a diviner and I was given the opportunity to try out the sticks and found that they worked for me. [Harry Ward asked] how and why do these things work? After using them myself and talking to others about using them, I find that they are used to find: underground waterways, water, water pipes (steel, copper and plastic), gas pipes, iron pipes and pin used for property corners and old burial plots (no kidding). No one understand[s] how or why they work; they just do. Don't question success. -F. Bower
  • I have done the wire thing just like you wrote... and it works pretty well. I even tracked an underground coalmine tunnel. It's not perfect, but [it is] always worth a try to see what happens. -J. Day, PE, PLS
  • When I worked at a civil engineering firm in Modesto, Calif., one of the surveyors [at the firm] located a water pipe in the back of the building where some remodeling was being done. All of the surveyors were watching in amazement. I [was able] to hold the rods in my hands and watch them cross as I walked over the water pipes. When they dug up the area, the pipes were [there]. - M. Moradian Jr.


The Nonbelievers

Here are some of the anti-dowsing responses I received:
  • After recently reading your article on water witching, I felt compelled to weigh in on this outlandish subject. Bunk, I say, total bunk! Now let me get this straight"¦basically you're saying that you hold your rod in your hand until it becomes stiff and begins to move on its own, and this usually indicates the presence of a conduit. Is that it? Did I understand this correctly? -Nancy O.
  • Saw your article in POB and couldn't help but comment. Although retired these 10 years, I remember during my days in the field when I would run across contemporaries who swore by the "smart" wires bent at right angles. They claimed they could locate virtually anything buried underground! Being a skeptic, which I still am, I would challenge them to prove it. Invariably, they would attempt to show me in areas where we both knew there were underground pipes or wires! Obviously there was some movement of the wires, but who could tell if it was due to some conduit or another reason? I'm still convinced that there is almost no way to objectively evaluate this mysterious methodology! -B. Huegel, PE
  • I firmly believe [that] there is a lot of science/technology involved in dowsing since pipelines have a magnetic force around them. I have personally located long abandoned sewer lines under concrete slabs within 1 ft accuracy. Depth, though, is a whole different story. My conclusion is witching works, but not all the time. Anyone who tells me they can dowse better than 50 percent success is telling a story. I've seen it work, and have seen it not work. From one professional to another it can and will work. -G. Warren Monroe, PLS


To Dowse or Not to Dowse

I completely agree with one E-mail I received that stated, "I really would like to see a true scientific study done [on dowsing]." I also agree with another E-mail that argued, "perhaps the field of dowsing needs recognition by the scientific world." Another respondent added that "It seems that this practice has been around long enough for the academic community to have studied it. They should get to work!"

These comments support precisely why I wrote the article on dowsing in the first place. Many people have opinions on the topic of dowsing and I often wonder why we haven't seen any serious studies on the subject. With modern methodologies, we could prove once and for all that there either is or is not a scientific basis for dowsing. Many companies and government agencies worldwide could benefit from this practice if it was properly documented through study. Otherwise, it could be debunked once and for all.

So, to all of the universities, corporations and agencies who provide funding for research projects, can you help us complete a legitimate study of dowsing using modern technology? If so, please E-mail me at hw@cyberneers.com and let me know how one could pursue a study, legitimately and scientifically. The benefits of conducting a study could not only assist surveyors but also assist water-deprived countries, drought-afflicted farmers and countless cities trying to increase their water sources.

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