Well, Done

Dowsing means to search for underground water sources by using “dowsing rods”.

This year, many of us are going to feel the effects of water issues. The Southwest, West, and parts of the Midwest are all experiencing drought conditions. Our area in northernmost California seems to be trending toward drier, rather than wetter. Neither of the two ski resorts within 90 minutes of us even opened last winter—there was no snow.

Holding Water

The natural spring that provides our house water dried up last summer. In the 24 years we’ve lived here, it has happened twice. Just never so early, or for so long. Even throughout this winter, the spring never recovered its normal output. 

Without a good snow-pack in the mountains around us, we don’t expect the spring to last into summer this year. So we decided we would drill another well—our third. But well-drilling is a costly crapshoot. You might hit a gusher, get a trickle—or not find any water at all. Our second well was a disappointment. We ended up with a $7,000 hole that gives us only about 2 gallons per minute (gpm). I realize in some parts of the world that is treasure beyond measure, but with our gardening habit, it is a paltry amount.


We got a real deal on some used water-storage tanks, and added 5,500 gallons to our 2,600-gallon capacity. This sounds like a lot, and it is. We try to always keep the tanks topped off. Besides water for agricultural uses, these tanks also are a wildfire defense tool. The closest fire station, Cal Fire, is a half-hour away. An awful lot of bad can happen in 30 minutes’ time.

Drilling a successful new well would enhance our ability to fight a wildfire, provide water “on tap” to grow a crop in our new pasture, and, in light of our diminishing spring, give us some water security by having another source.

Water Witch

My Auntie Dot drilled water wells outside of Watsonville, California, for 30 years. My grandfather sometimes “witched” the well sites for her. Water-witching or dowsing means to search for underground water sources by using “dowsing rods,” a forked stick or bent wires that are said to respond to the “unseen influences” of water presence by changing their direction.

The rods Bob-O made for us were two pieces of braising rod with the last 5 inches bent at a 90° angle. We each took turns with the dowsing rod, holding the short ends loosely in our fists, elbows bent, long ends pointing straight forward and close to shoulder height.

We wanted the well to be closer to the new tanks, and went witching for a site around them. As one of us slowly walked the site with the rods, occasionally they would cross to make an “X.” When this happened, we’d stop and put a small marker flag at that location. We both took turns with the rods, walking the entire area. When we both got a hit in the same place, we marked the existing flag.

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