By Timothy B. Lee
Ten out of 12 water utilities in the United Kingdom admitted that their technicians use divining rods to find underground leaks or water pipes, according to an investigation by science blogger Sally Le Page.
Dowsing is a centuries-old technique for locating underground water. Someone searching for water holds two parallel sticks—or sometimes a single Y-shaped stick—called divining rods while walking in an area where there might be water under the surface. The branches supposedly twitch when they’re over a water source.
Needless to say, there’s zero scientific evidence that this technique actually works better than random chance. But Le Page got a bunch of UK water companies to admit that their technicians still employ the superstitious practice.
Le Page heard from her parents, who live in Stratford-upon-Avon, that a technician from their water company, Severn Trent Water, had been using a divining rod to decide whether to do work in the area. Curious, Le Page tweeted at Severn Trent’s Twitter account to see if the utility really had technicians using the age-old technique.
“We do have some techs that still have them in the van and use them if they need to,” the company tweeted. “However, we prefer to use listening sticks and other methods.”
Curious, Le Page sent inquiries to 11 other major water companies in the UK. Amazingly, 10 of them confirmed that their technicians sometimes use divining rods to detect leaks, while just two—Northern Ireland Water and Wessex Water—said they never use the technique.
This didn’t sit well with Le Page.
“You could just laugh this off. Isn’t it a bit silly that big companies are still using magic to do their jobs,” she wrote. “Except if they get it wrong, that could mean the difference between an entire town having safe drinking water or not.”