Dowsers in the Highlands

Dowsers Find Water Gusher and Power Source in the Berryessa Highlands 

When the American Society of Dowsers read about the plight of the Berryessa Highlands residents regarding their water and sewer problems, they decided to offer some help. The American Society of Dowsers ( has over 3,000 members internationally. Many Napa Valley land owners opt for this low-tech means of locating water - dowsing, or “water witching,” - an old-time practice with many modern adherents. A person familiar with local dowsers claimed that an expert in Oakville could actually find water or water pipes on a plot of land by dowsing a map of that parcel.

old dowsers

Dowsing. Historical photograph of a group of diviners with a variety of objects used for detecting underground water ("dowsing"). The divining (meaning "finding") objects are (from left to right): a whale bone rod, a pendulum suspended from a rod, a watch on a pendulum, another watch on a pendulum and a split cane rod. The rods are held loosely in the practitioner's hands and spontaneously point upwards or downwards when he passes over an underground object such as a spring. The pendulums rotate when over an underground object. Although still widely used, divining has no scientific basis and there is no conclusive evidence that it works.

Berryessa Highlands residents were first made aware of the dowsing potential by a story that appeared in a local blog in 2008. According to one Napa Valley resident, “When the well went dry at a friend’s house a group of five local well-known dowsers went to help out. They detected an aquifer a short distance from the well. They performed a series of… of… of … actions, to “encourage” the aquifer to change its route a bit and replenish the water supply at the well.”

A group of six experienced dowsers from American Society of Dowsers made the trip to the Berryessa Highlands a few weeks ago. Although it took time and effort they were able to discover a previously unknown aquifer which later research showed reached all the way to the Sierra foothills. The aquifer was under enough pressure to supply unlimited pure water for all the Highlands residents indefinitely. The flow has been measured to be so large that after the needs of the Berryessa Highlands has been met a new Highlands community group is planning to sell excess water to the Solano County Water Agency to help refill Lake Berryessa in dry years such as 2009.



Another unexpected find during the search for water was a cleft in the rock that led to a geothermal vent. Since it snows so seldom in the Berryessa Highlands only a few people ever noticed that there was one valley where the snow never seemed to stick. The group of dowsers and residents discovered that the vent could serve as a sink for the Highlands sewer system outflow and create steam. This is the same process used in Santa Rosa where the          output of the sewer plant is pumped up to the Geysers and injected into the geothermal strata to create more steam to run generators.

Initial engineering surveys have shown that the capacity for electricity generation from the steam created by the Highlands sewer effluent should be able to subsidize more than half of the current electricity needs of the community. As the word of these finds leaks out, property values are increasing dramatically.

For those of you interested in how dowsing works, here’s a short description. The dowser visits the proposed site, surveying the lay of the land and native vegetation. Then, using a tool which can run from a forked willow stick to a bent brass brazing rod, the dowser walks the land holding the divining rod in outstretched hands, waiting for the tell-tale movement in the rod as unseen forces “pull” the tip toward subterranean water. Long-time Napa Valley dowser Laurie Wood describes dowsing as “a gut feel... together with the process of eliminating which sites won’t work.”

When a potential well site is located, the dowser gets out a string with a weight at one end, gives it a clockwise swing, and counts the resulting number of revolutions, using a mathematical formula to determine the depth of the aquifer and its capacity. The proposed site is crisscrossed on foot and the process is repeated until the optimal well site is determined, and then the well driller’s called in. 

Dowser guy                       © Peter Kilkus 2020