Cyber-wellness Means Cyber-awareRead more Addressing maternal mental healthcare in AfricaRead more Qatar v. Ecuador to kick off FIFA World Cup 2022™ on 20 NovemberRead more Webb Fontaine Announces Launch of Niger National Single Window (NNSW) to Bolster TradeRead more Ethiopia: Loan from United Nations Fund Allows Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to Scale Up Fertilizers for Farmers in TigrayRead more How Choosing the Right Printer Helps Small Businesses and Content Creators to Save Time, Maximise Productivity and Achieve GrowthRead more The United States Contributes USD $223 Million to Help World Food Programme (WFP) Save Lives and Stave Off Severe Hunger in South SudanRead more Eritrea: World Breastfeeding WeekRead more Eritrean community festival in Scandinavian countriesRead more IOM: Uptick in Migrants Heading Home as World Rebounds from COVID-19Read more

Divining intervention: drought-hit Californians enlist ‘water witch’

show caption
Farmers at this grape farm in drought-stricken Fresno, California use drip irrigation to ration water for their bushes./AFP
Print Friendly and PDF

Aug 04, 2021 - 09:12 AM

FRESNO — Holding a V-shaped branch point down, David Sagouspe examines the cracked soil of a California farm. Under the blazing sun, he takes a breath and sets off, mechanically turning the branch five times towards the sky and five times towards the ground.

He stops, marks the spot with a pink flag and nods. “People would pay a lot of money for that strata right there,” he says, referring to underground water.

For more than 40 years, Sagouspe has worked as a dowser, also known as a “water witch,” offering to help the largest farmers in central California find groundwater.

Proudly claiming to live in “America’s orchard” but desperate in the face of increasingly extreme droughts, farmers are turning to him more and more.

In order to find water in a region that severely lacks it, Sagouspe can’t use just any piece of wood. “Some people use willow, but it is too fast-reacting for me,” he says, as if it were obvious.

His tool of choice is a piece of olive wood, wrapped with black tape around the bottom, that he keeps on the dashboard of his white pickup truck.

“The stick, it becomes almost bonded to me,” he says. “When I witch from my truck, it starts tingling in my hands when i know there’s going to be water.”

A ‘renegade’ 

Sagouspe swears he doesn’t use any tools, maps or geological surveys in his work. “I’m a renegade,” the 70-year-old says mischievously.

Instead, he bases his work on very precise knowledge of the region and the neighboring mountain range that irrigates the valley with water — when there is any. His father, who transferred this “energy” to him, also worked as a dowser in the area.

Sagouspe offers to “pass that energy down” to AFP, but without much success.

For each supposed water source that he marks with his little pink flags, Sagouspe makes $1,000.

During the severe drought in 2014, “I paid for my daughter’s wedding, I had so many people calling me,” he says. In 2021, with orchards parched, animals dehydrated and farmers panicked, he also stands to make record revenues.

Farmers who hire the dowser have no guarantee of actually finding water at the spots he marks. They then have to pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to build wells and extract water — or come home empty-handed.

But they take that risk because specialized companies cost more, without necessarily being more precise, says Bikram Hundal, a farmer who in the past dug an expensive well nearly 900 feet (300 meters) deep without finding even a drop of water.


During his first meeting with the dowser, Hundal — whose company packages 20 million pounds (nine million kilograms) of almonds per year — said he didn’t take Sagouspe seriously.

“Are we doing a probe, are we using a satellite?” Hundal, standing in the middle of his almond field, recalls asking. “He said, ‘No, I can feel the electromagnetic currents of the water.'”

“I was like, ‘This is BS,'” says Hundal, who has an engineering background.

But then…

“I’ve used him five times, and he’s been successful five times,” says Hundal.

‘Call me’ 

Experts bristle at such examples, arguing that if you dig deep enough, you can find a certain amount of water almost anywhere.

But it won’t necessarily be of high quality, and digging it up can endanger already fragile water tables.

“The dowser commonly implies that the spot indicated by the rod is the only one where water could be found, but this is not necessarily true,” warns the United States Geological Survey.

Sagouspe insists that the wand doesn’t lie. “Sure, you’re going to have your skeptics,” he says, shrugging.

“Until you have a ranch that is completely dry,” he adds, smiling. “Then, call me.”

MAORANDCITIES.COM uses both Facebook and Disqus comment systems to make it easier for you to contribute. We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. All comments should be relevant to the topic. By posting, you agree to our Privacy Policy. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, name-calling, foul language or other inappropriate behavior. Please keep your comments relevant and respectful. By leaving the ‘Post to Facebook’ box selected – when using Facebook comment system – your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the “X” in the upper right corner of the Facebook comment box to report spam or abuse. You can also email us.