NAPA (KPIX) -- With the drought rapidly drying up reservoirs, farmers are desperately searching for new sources of water and some of them are turning to a mysterious method, thousands of years old.
This close to harvest, the Napa Valley grapes glow like jewels on the vine. But on this day, in a vineyard outside St. Helena, we are hunting for a different kind of treasure…we're looking for water. But Mark Neal, the Land Manager for the Lawrence Family Vineyards, has brought along his secret weapon: Rob Thompson, who has an ironic description of his business during a drought.
"Swamped. I'm booking out 3 to 4 weeks in advance and working Saturdays too," Thompson said. "I've never seen it like this."
Thompson, who owns Thompson Well Location in Sonoma County, practices the mysterious art of dowsing, locating underground water with nothing more than a pair of bent steel rods. He touches his rods to the ground to reset them, then begins to move them. When they point toward water, the rods magically cross each other, almost like they become magnetized.
Thompson believes underground objects, like water, create changes in a faint electromagnetic field.
"Think of us as one big radio," he said, "and, we tune into that change in the magnetic field, and so we pick it up."
Well drilling costs thousands of dollars, so when Neal hires a dowser he's backing it with a sizable investment and his faith has been well-rewarded. In the 25 years they've worked together, Thompson has a 100 percent success rate.
"Never hit a dry well yet," said Neal. "Now don't jinx that today!" he said, laughing.
The well on a 50-acre vineyard along Silverado Trail is starting to fail, so Thompson began his search for a new site, eventually finding 3 spot and identifying the exact place to drill. As he concentrates, the rods even tell him how deep to drill and how much water it is likely to produce. It all feels a bit mystical, and despite Thompson's 40 years of success, the scientific community says dowsing is a lot of bunk.
So what's his response when people say there's nothing to it?
"I just hand them a set of dowsing rods," he said. "And some of them can do it and they're like, what's going on?"
So I decided to try it myself. Holding the rods as gently as I could, I began walking forward. Suddenly the rods began crossing and because they were pointed slightly down, they had to defy gravity to do it.
"Ok, I am not moving this, it's moving itself," I told Thompson. "That's amazing."
But Thompson believes we are moving the rods, subconsciously tapping in to some sixth sense And while he can't totally explain it, after 40 years he doesn't doubt it's real and neither does Neal.
"I won't take on a project unless I can use Rob as my dowser" he said, "on any project."
Thompson says his "sixth sense" extends to other things as well and has been hired to find oil, gas and mineral deposits, and even an occasional shipwreck.
Farming is a practical pursuit, but it's dependent on the weather, which no one can really predict. Dowsing may be a mystery, but if growers can have faith in something as mysterious and complex as the weather, why not for something as simple as two steel rods?
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