Meet the Water Witches of California

1 year ago 151

California Today

Wednesday: The request for nonscientific water-finding services shows the desperation of farmers during a deepening drought.

Livia Albeck-Ripka

July 21, 2021, 8:47 a.m. ET


Rob Thompson dowsing for h2o  astatine  a vineyard successful  Napa Valley connected  Monday.
Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Good morning.

I archetypal heard astir the occult signifier of h2o divining successful Australia.

There, overmuch similar successful California, heat, drought and wildfires ravage the landscape. In the country’s astir caller drought, farmers contended with shrinking aquifers and drying-up rivers, portion cities came adjacent to moving retired of water. The impacts of clime alteration wreaked havoc connected the environment, threatening Australia’s precise way of life.

These similarities were wide aft I arrived successful America past month, lone to beryllium met with a blistering vigor question crossed the Western United States that melted roads and obliterated previous vigor records. In Sonoma County, the portion wherever I live, farmers’ taps are being switched off, and vintners are digging ever deeper for water.

The concern is desperate. And I wondered: Who mightiness payment from that desperation?

“I don’t privation to accidental concern is booming, oregon concern is good, but concern is very, very, precise busy,” Augie Guardino, a second-generation well-driller based successful Santa Clara County told me. “When concern is bully for us, it’s not bully for the remainder of the community.”

He’s “similar to a mortician,” helium said.

Likewise, Rob Thompson said helium was swamped.

“This is my busiest I deliberation I’ve ever been successful my life,” helium said. Thompson 53, is simply a h2o diviner, oregon a h2o witch: He says helium tin find groundwater successful the fractures of the earth’s bedrock, utilizing conscionable 2 rods and a hunch.

The method is thought to person travel into vogue successful the Middle Ages successful Europe, and is “totally without technological merit,” according to the National Ground Water Association, a radical of experts, including hydrogeologists, that promotes liable h2o use.

But that has not stopped farmers and onshore managers from hiring Thompson, a second-generation h2o diviner based successful Santa Rosa, who formerly co-owned 1 of Northern California’s largest well-drilling companies and claims to person recovered thousands of groundwater sites crossed the state.


Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times


Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

“This is the worst drought I’ve seen successful my lifetime,” Thompson said. “In California, we’re going deeper and deeper,” helium said of the wells radical were drilling to entree water.

Just a two-hour thrust from the nation’s exertion superior of Silicon Valley, immoderate vineyards proceed to thin connected Thompson’s work.

“I haven’t ever utilized a geologist to find water,” said Johnnie White, the operations manager of Piña Vineyard Management, which runs dozens of vineyards successful Napa Valley. Still, White acknowledged, “I find it each precise far-fetched.”

Last week, I spent the time with Thompson astatine 1 of those vineyards, which was burned successful past year’s wildfires, and is flanked by scorched hills and charcoal trees. Now, the vineyard’s wells are going dry.

“It’s a disaster,” said Davie Piña, the proprietor of the vineyard absorption company, arsenic helium stood connected the cracking earth. “Just what we need,” helium added, “after different disaster.”

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Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Compiled by Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley


Credit...Citizen of the Planet/UIG, via Getty Images
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