NAPA COUNTY, Calif. — When surface water is scarce Marc Mondavi grabs his trusty copper rods and starts asking them questions.
“I first ask my rods. Is there any water on the property? That means 'yes,'” Mondavi says as he watches his bent copper rods mysteriously cross in his hands.
After a little walking he asks the rods a second question and waits to see if they move.
“Is there 65 gallons a minute? Yep.”
Mondavi is what you call a water witch or a dowser.
“There is another name. Doodlebugging. It’s not very common,” Mondavi says.
Call him what you will, but Mondavi has a special internal gift allowing him to locate underground water and predict how much there is.
“I’ve gone up against geologist and scientists three times in my life, and I’ve beat them,” Mondavi says.
It may look like a bunch of hocus pocus, but Mondavi’s water location services are in high demand since the start of the drought.
“I’d say 70% of farmers won’t drill a well without a dowser,” Mondavi says.
Water witching, or dowsing, is not a new phenomenon. The practice dates back to the early 1500s. Some dowsers use wood branches, and others use metal rods to locate water. But according to Mondavi, it’s not a skill that can be learned; it’s an internal gift.
“If you don’t have it, you’re not going to get it,” he said.
Mondavi says it takes years to hone the energy. He spent many years with another witch before he really understood his water-locating energy.
“I’ve never not found any water,” he said.
Mondavi is co-owner of Charles Krug Winery, and he often gives dowsing demonstrations at his vineyard, St. Helena. He often tells people that finding water is one thing, but getting it out of the ground is another.
Mondavi says drilling for water can cost thousands of dollars and drilling for large agriculture irrigation wells can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Well drillers get paid no matter what," he said. "That is why you want to make sure there’s enough water below them.”
Mondavi says there’s a number of dowsers in California, and if the drought continues, their services will be in high demand.