California farmers hire dowsers to find water

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In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, proprietor Marc Mondavi demonstrates dowsing with “diving rods” to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, proprietor Marc Mondavi demonstrates dowsing with “diving rods” to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, proprietor Marc Mondavi demonstrates dowsing with “diving rods” to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, proprietor Marc Mondavi demonstrates dowsing with “diving rods” to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, proprietor Marc Mondavi holds a pair of “diving rods” that he uses to locate water at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, a “divining rod” is shown next to bottles of Marc Mondavi’s The Diving Rod wine at the Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, Calif. As water supplies shrink during California’s historic drought, vineyard owners and other farmers are looking to an ancient, yet scientifically discredited, source for finding water: dowsers. Also known as water witches, dowsers use so-called “divining rods†made of copper or wood, pendulums or other items to find water deep underground using nothing more than their own intuition. Even though dowsing hasn’t held up under scientific scrutiny, according to U.S. Geological Survey, it remains a popular national past-time, especially in drought-stricken areas. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

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ST. HELENA, Calif. (AP) — With California in the grips of drought, farmers throughout the state are using a mysterious and some say foolhardy tool for locating underground water: dowsers, or water witches.

Practitioners of dowsing use rudimentary tools — usually copper sticks or wooden “divining rods” that resemble large wishbones — and what they describe as a natural energy to find water or minerals hidden deep underground.

While both state and federal water scientists disapprove of dowsing, California “witchers” are busy as farmers seek to drill more groundwater wells due to the state’s record drought that persists despite recent rain.

The nation’s fourth-largest wine maker, Bronco Wine Co., says it uses dowsers on its 40,000 acres of California vineyards, and dozens of smaller farmers and homeowners looking for wells on their property also pay for dowsers. Nationwide, the American Society of Dowsers, Inc. boasts dozens of local chapters, which meet annually at a conference.

“It’s kind of bizarre. Scientists don’t believe in it, but I do and most of the farmers in the Valley do,” said Marc Mondavi, a vineyard owner whose family has been growing grapes and making wine since the mid-20th century in the Napa Valley.

Mondavi doesn’t just believe in dowsing, he practices it.

On a recent afternoon, standing in this family’s Charles Krug vineyard holding two copper divining rods, Mondavi walked slowly forward through the dormant vines.

After about 40 feet, the rods quickly crossed and Mondavi — a popular dowser in the world famous wine region— stopped. “This is the edge of our underground stream,” he said during the demonstration. Mondavi said he was introduced to “witching” by the father of an old girlfriend, and realized he had a proclivity for the practice.

After the valley’s most popular dowser died in recent years, Mondavi has become

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