Last year it was revealed that ten of 12 water companies operating in the UK are still using a practice called water dowsing to locate leaks underground, despite there being no evidence that it works.
What is water dowsing?
It’s an old method for finding water beneath the ground, often to locate the source of leaks. Those who use the practice, called dowsers, or water witchers, say that their metal divining rods will cross over each other in the presence of water.
Numerous studies have shown that it’s nothing but a pseudoscience and simply doesn’t work. Despite this, water companies in the UK still say that it’s an effective practice and is comparable with more modern methods.
Who uses water dowsing?
This discovery was made by Sally Le Page, a science blogger, after her parents saw an engineer from Severn Trent “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe.”
Le Page quizzed Severn Trent on why they were still using divining rods. They replied on Twitter by saying: “We’ve found that some of the older methods are just as effective than the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.”
Le Page went on to ask the other 11 water companies around the UK whether they were using the same method.
Only two said that it did not use divining rods, Wessex Water and Northern Ireland Water. The other nine companies confirmed that they still used water dowsing in some form.
Should it be used at all?
Christopher Hassall, a specialist in water management at Leeds University said: “This isn’t a technique, it’s witchcraft.”
He’s since called on Ofwat to stop the practice in the future. “The statutory bodies need to be stepping in. It is analogous to using homeopathy and reiki on the NHS. These are unproven practices that waste time and money.
“Drinking water is a fundamental human necessity and something that the water companies should be managing as effectively and efficiently as possible without using these medieval witchcraft practices.”
Mr Hassall also highlighted that this could be affecting the costs passed on to the customer. “If they are going to be passing the charges on to us for using dubious practices, then that’s something everyone in the UK should be concerned about.”
Le Page also commented: “Sending out somebody off to a location just to wave some sticks around is not a good use of time or money.”
A spokesperson for Ofwat has urged water companies to consider the cost-effectiveness of any techniques they use to detect and stop leaks.
Not an official practice
Companies including Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water and Thames Water said that while it’s not necessarily an official practice or part of their training, some employees do use them occasionally.
Anglian Water, who had previously admitted using divining rods said in a statement to the Guardian, “Using dowsing rods to find leaks is an old-fashioned method. We don’t spend money on it, or issue rods to our engineers.”
A spokesperson for trade body Water UK said: “Water companies are spending millions of pounds each year on innovative leakage detection schemes which has helped reduce leakages by a third since the 1990s, and it’s unlikely that a few individuals doing some unofficial divining has had much impact.”
What do you think of water companies using water dowsing? Should it be banned or is there a place for it? Please let us know your thoughts.