In this episode of Engineering Legends, we hear stories from an expert dowser who has helped residential, commercial, and even engineering companies to locate water sources by leveraging the refined art of an ancient 16th century practice.
See a photo of the dowsing tools discussed in this episode.
Kelly Rogers: Welcome to today’s episode of Engineering Legends. I’m Kelly Rogers and I’m here today with Tiffany Long. Today’s episode focuses on dowsing, which is also commonly referred to as water witching. Dowsing is the process of locating underground water, and also other things like oil, for example, by using a rod, a stick or an object hung from a string to tap into energy. The practice involves walking the surface of a property while holding the dowsing tool. With the tool reacting to the energy that underground water generates. This is done under the guidance of an experienced dowser. The tools are called dowsing rods, sticks, divining rods, and pendulums.
Jack Roberts: We both came into the kitchen and I reached up and I turned on that faucet and there was water just flowing out like there had never been an issue before, and it was crystal clear and cold. And I have never had an issue since.
Tiffany Long: The practice has been popular for centuries, with some companies hiring dowsers to locate water and oil. And with individuals who need help in determining where to dig a well. According to the American Society of Dowsers, divining the location of water dates back many millennia. In the Tassili caves of Northern Africa, a cave painting depicts a man holding a forked stick, apparently using it to search for water. Other historical images that appear to represent dowsing are found in the temples of Egyptian pharaohs and in ancient Chinese etchings.
Kelly Rogers: I know in the past too they used willow rods, like willow sticks. The way I became interested in water witching and understanding how it works was a TV show called Off the Grid. And on this show they focus on people who want to build a residence that is completely self-sufficient. And so they use solar panels and wind turbines for energy and composting toilets, but the most important need of course for any home is water. And many of the off the grid houses are in the woods or off the beaten path. So usually unless they’re really close to a stream or river, they need to find a well. And on several episodes they contacted a dowser to come out and help locate a water source.
Tiffany Long: Yep. I love that show too. Today we have with us a member of the Mile High Dowsers, Jack Roberts. The Mile High Dowsers are a nonprofit organization founded in 1981 and based in Lakewood, Colorado. Their purpose is to provide education, training and fellowship to all in the art of dowsing, both to benefit the environment and for personal enjoyment. Jack Roberts has been dowsing for many years and serves as the current president of the Mile High Dowsers. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little background about yourself, how did you get into dowsing?
Jack Roberts: I was first exposed to dowsing when I was in high school and it was when my parents needed to have a well on their property. And they contacted a neighbor who was a well-known dowser in the area. And she came over and she used a tool called the bobber, which when you’re using it, you start off and it’s like this, and you’re walking around and you have your intentions of what you want to find. And pretty soon if there’s water available, it’ll start bouncing this way up and down. So that’s how they located the initial well for the property. So that piqued my interest and so I’ve carried that through the rest of my life. In one of my first jobs, one of my supervisors showed us how to locate an underground water line. And I never knew how to do that other than going out with a shovel and starting and digging and thinking, “well, it’s approximately right here”.
Well, he came and he had some brass rods. These happened to be from a clothes’ hanger that we just cut and made into L-rods. But he used these, he could walk down the sidewalk or along the road or out in the field and go along and when he’d come to a water line, they would close for him indicating that there was a water line. And so I thought that that was real cool as well. And so I started using that and eventually figured out that we could use that to find other underground utilities as well, such as phone lines, power lines, gas lines, wastewater lines. So, that worked out real well in my career to use those types of things.
Kelly Rogers: Describe how it works. How does it happen? I mean, do they vibrate or do you feel something?
Jack Roberts: Everything is made of energy. Whether it’s yourself, myself, a tree, your dogs, the cat, the grasses, the trees, all have energy and there’s frequency, there’s vibration. And so our bodies allow us to sense that vibration from all these other things. And until you start nurturing that you’re not realizing that you’re able to sense those things with these tools. It’s like an antenna or it enhances that vibration. So it’s easy to see. So as I’m going along and I see these and they kind of wiggle in a little bit, and then I get to a water line or sewer line or gas line. And for me, they’ll cross this way, but when I’m in the search mode, they’re out in the front and just trying to moving slightly. So it’s just the sensing of energy.
Tiffany Long: And you just hold those loosely and in your hands?
Jack Roberts: With these L-rods, I hold it like this, see how my thumb was down. If I hold it up on top, it’s going to hold it too tight. I want it to be able to move.
Kelly Rogers: And just to describe what he’s doing, because people can’t see it because it’s a podcast. It looks like you’re holding a metal rod that is in the shape of an L and he’s got his fist around the bottom half of that metal rod. And so it’s like, you’re holding this rod that almost looks like a coat hanger. Exactly like you said, so…
Jack Roberts: Yep. That’s right. So it’s just, I hold it loosely in my fingers so that it can spin around. It can do a 360 degrees pin.
Kelly Rogers: Now, when you say you have to nurture or build that energy, how do you do that? I mean, do you have to practice? Is there a way you help build that skillset?
Jack Roberts: There is. When I was first learning to dowse, and I still do it occasionally, is that when I get up in the morning, first thing I do is I drink a big glass of water, because it’s important to stay hydrated since our bodies are made up of primarily water. And you need to make sure that you are hydrated. And then I come down here into my office area and I’ll pull out my all rods and I’ll hold up just an individual one. And I’ll say, please show me true north. And it’ll swing over to show true north. And I’ll say, okay, show me true south. And it swings around to the opposite side or I’ll go to the east or the west. And I’ll say, so I’m asking questions that I know the answers to so that it’s proving that it is working for me.
So then I’ll say, okay, now show me where my computer is over on the desk. So it’ll swing over. Yep. And there’s my laptop. And then I’ll say, okay, now show me where’s my truck parked in the garage. And it swings around and it points out into the garage. So I do that. And so each day that I do that, the answer comes faster and faster and faster. And it’s my intent as well that I got to concentrate. If I’m not concentrating, I’m going to get an incorrect answer. But if I concentrate, I will have a correct answer.
Kelly Rogers: So if you have someone that’s like a new dowser or someone trying to learn the trade, are there exercises that you give them to practice?
Jack Roberts: Yes. The same things. I’ll tell them that each day when they get up, first hydrate then start doing that. So, each person is an individual, so they need to determine what’s the best time of the day for them to do the practice, but they need to practice every day initially to get good at dowsing.
Tiffany Long: So you’ve talked a little bit about the L-rods. What are some of the other tools of the trade?
Jack Roberts: Well, we’ve talked about the bobber, we’ve talked about the L-rod. The other one that is very common is Y-rod and most people know that, that people go out and get a willow stick. Well, a lot of people still do that. Many people will now use other materials to create a Y-rod. In my hand, right now, I have bristles from a street sweeping machine that we’ve put a small plastic nut on so that it makes a Y-rod. So with the Y-rod, I hold my hands out, Palm up and I’ll put one each side of that Y-rod under my thumb and so it’s pointing out in front of me. And then again with my intentions, I’m going, okay, show me where that underground wastewater line is. So I’m walking ahead and walking ahead and pretty soon it’ll tip down to show me where that wastewater line is. So then I know that, okay, I can start digging there, or this is where I need to avoid when I’m out there with my excavator.
Kelly Rogers: And for folks that are listening, what we can do is post some photos of some of those tools. So you can see what they look like.
Jack Roberts: Yeah, that would be great.
Kelly Rogers: Yep.
Jack Roberts: Then there’s also the pendulum. Pendulums can be made of almost anything. Because I have a maintenance background. I made my own pendulum. And what I did is I took a washer and I polished it up and I grounded on it and I made it so that it’s in a diamond type shape so that I have a point that’s down so that when I’m doing fine work, it can point exactly where I need it to. And then I have a little heavier chain than a lot of people use. Lot of people use a chain that is from a necklace. So it’s a real lightweight. And I’m not saying that any of these aren’t right, but this is what was right for me. So I took the washer, this heavier chain, and then at the top of my chain, which is about five inches long, I put a nut and again, this represents my maintenance background.
And with this, some people, they just pick up their pendulum and it immediately starts moving for them. I always kickstart mine because it has that little heavier weight and it’ll start circling around which we call a search mode. And then in my mind I’m saying, alright, show me a positive response. And pretty soon it starts going off from my left shoulder out, towards, out ahead of me, but off to the right hand side. So it’s moving in that direction that, so that’s tell me I got a positive response or I got a yes answer.
And I’ll say, show me a negative response. And it goes to the opposite side. So it’s going from like my right shoulder out in front of me to off to the left hand side. And so all the questions that you ask with dowsing have to be able to answer it in a yes, no or positive, negative. You can’t just say, is this sky blue. Well, you can say that because it’s going to tell you yes. But you have to be careful of the questions that you’re answering. Yeah.
Tiffany Long: Yeah, that makes sense.
Kelly Rogers: Yeah. So I guess you can find water and you can also find other things as well. What’s been the most interesting thing that you’ve doused or experience that you’ve had in your many years of doing this?
Jack Roberts: Well, the most interesting or what really intrigued me and really got me working to enhance my dowsing skills was I hired a master dowser to come to my property in Montana that I had. I had 20 acres that I was planning to build on and I needed a well and I didn’t think that I had the abilities to find a well at that time. So I had gone out there with my L-rods thinking, well, if I can find all these other things, my gosh, I should be able to find water and sure enough, I went out there and I was dowsing around my property and got up near my build site, suddenly my L-rods crossed. And I continued to walk and they stayed crossed for about 10 or 20 feet cross.
And what the heck is this? And so I was very confused, but I went ahead and used some con stakes and marked that. Then I contacted a master dowser and had him come to my property. And he used these Y-rods, plastic Y-rods. And we went up onto the property and we found the vein of water and he said, oh, this is a really good vein. And I pointed up the vein of waterways and to the con stakes. And I said, I did those with my L-rods, but I didn’t know what it was. And he said, well, this is an underground stream or underground river flowing through here that 10 or 20 feet wide. So that really got me. But before we even walked up onto the property, when I met him down at the highway, I was in my truck and he got in my truck with me and he gave me one side of the Y-rod.
And he kept the other side in his hand. And as we were going up the road, this thing would dip down and say, there’s a vein of water. There’s a vein of water. So the three miles off the road up to my property, they kept showing us wherever there were a vein of water crossing the road. And when we got up to my property, when we got to the leading edge of the property, it dipped down, he said, yep, there’s a vein. Open. Here’s another good vein. We parked the truck and got out. And he pulls out, he had like a carpenter’s belt and he had a variety of Y-rods on that carpenter belt. And he pulled off one and on the end of it, above the nut, he had a little vial and then that vial was sand.
And he held that up in the air and he just swooped across my property with that. And he says, okay, there’s that vein of water. You have this vein over here. That’s got sand. And he says, we probably won’t end up there. So he puts that Y-rod down pulls up another Y-rod with another vial on the end. And this time it has gravel in it. And he does the same thing. And he starts from that, leading it into the property and sweeps across says, no gravel amounts just that sand over there. And it continues to cross through the other day. And he goes, oh, there’s good gravel there. He says, we’re probably going to end up there. And sure enough, when we walked up the proposed roadway to the bill site, we came to that really good vein of water.
But again, before even walking away from the truck, we were still down there, he pulls out another Y-rod with another vial on it. This time he’s got petroleum products in it. He holds that up. No, no petroleum products here. He lays that one down, gets another one out. And then this vial he’s got gold in it. No, no gold on this property. So you can dowse for all kinds of things. So…
Kelly Rogers: That is absolutely fascinating. So who are your typical clients? It sounds like you get a wide variety. Obviously water is one.
Jack Roberts: Oh, it can be anybody. Engineering firms. I’m working with an engineering firm right now. I’ve got to go there and dowse a well site on Monday. This last year, one of my other good dowsing friends was contacted from overseas. There was a farmer, a farmer in the desert. In a true desert. There’s nothing but sand. He needed to find water for his farm. So he requested that the person give us some coordinates of the property and also to send us some maps if he had any. And we were able to map dowse. So with that, that’s when we switched over to using our pendulum and we map dowsed and we were able to find domes of water out in the desert. And then from those domes of water, there are veins that feed off of it. And so we wanted to be able to drill well on a vein, you never want to drill into a dome of water because you release the pressure and then the dome disappears.
Kelly Rogers: Now, when you say you map dowsed, are you not physically there? Are you doing it from a map? Or how does that work?
Jack Roberts: Yeah, we’re doing it from our offices or from our homes or from our vehicle, wherever we may be. If there’s a map, we can, a map of that specific area. And then we have to focus in there, be very intent on it. And then with our pendulum asking specific questions, we can determine where the domes of water are. The veins of water are. We can still determine the depth down to that vein of water, what the yield will be back up at the surface.
Kelly Rogers: So you can do it virtually.
Tiffany Long: Well. And I understand how the tools would point you to the location, but then how do they tell you the depth and the amount. How?
Jack Roberts: There’s a couple ways here. When we’re out in the field and we’re dowsing and we come to that vein, we stand right on the center of it. I always ask, show me the leading edge, show me the far edge, show me the center so that I know that I’m truly in the center. And then I say from the bottom of my feet to the top of the vein of fresh flowing potable water suitable for a well, how many feet is it? And then I’ll start off a 5, 10, 20, 50 until, and using my pendulum where it’s spinning around and into the positive until it gives me a no response. And then I start counting backwards down, 9, 8, 7, 6 until I get a positive response again.
So then I know that, that’s what it is. And then I’ll say, did I understand correctly that it is X number of feet from the bottom of my feet to the top of the vein at first point potable water suitable for a well, and if I get a positive response again, once I feel comfortable with it, and I’ll notate that depth then, and same thing with, on the yield to the surface from this point, what will the yield be from that vein of water to this surface at this location?
Tiffany Long: So how accurate is the practice of dowsing?
Jack Roberts: Okay, now the depth and the yield is the hardest thing to get correctly, but again, the more practice you have at it, the more times you’ve gone out and done this, the more accurate you are going to become. So there was a well south of where I live now that I said that it was going to get about 15 gallons a minute at the surface. And it ended up that he got about 18 at the surface. So I felt very good. If I was that close, I felt very good.
Kelly Rogers: Yeah. I would consider that pretty accurate.
Tiffany Long: Yeah. As I was researching for this podcast, I saw there was a study done in Germany in the 1990s, it was a 10 year research period where researchers paired up experienced geologists and dowsers sending them to dry regions of the world. And at the end of their research, they found that there was actually a 96% accuracy rate.
Kelly Rogers: For the dowsers? That’s amazing.
Tiffany Long: For the dowsers.
Kelly Rogers: Now do individual dowsers, like, do you track your own personal stats? Do each of you track, how accurate you are?
Jack Roberts: I do. Any of my Dowsing, I go ahead and I keep notes on it. And my forte of course is water. And so I’ve got a set group of questions of about 20 questions that I typically go through. And I, before I even go out and dowse a well site, I always map dowse first because I don’t want to waste my time for the person who needs a well. If there’s no water there, I’ll tell them up front. I wouldn’t want to be spending your $20,000 or something to try and find a well.
Kelly Rogers: You mentioned a minute ago that you recently worked with an engineering firm. So I’m curious, how often do you work with engineering firms?
Jack Roberts: It’s not real often because a lot of them are skeptical of dowsing. They say that the science isn’t there, but what I always say is, come on with us, come let us show you, look at our record keeping that we have of the successes that we have. You can just use dowsing for so many different things. We were contacted again, the same person that was contacted by a cemetery and the cemetery had been in this location for gosh, over a hundred years. And they knew that there were some mass burial sites, but they had lost track of where they were at. And they asked us to come in there. And so my friend said, well, I know that it’s approximately in this location that the mass burial side is.
And he says, let’s see what you get. So I, again, I pull up my L-rods and I just hold up one. And I say, okay, show me where the nearest underground mass burial side is. And it just turned around and went right over my shoulder. And we looked at each other smile and said, we’ve got to go see where this is. So we turned around and said, all right, show me, where the leading edge of this mass burial side is. And so we took off walking. We walked, I don’t know, about 150 feet, and suddenly they crossed. And I said, all right, show me where the far edge of this mass burial side is. So we went about oh, 40 more feet. So we marked that, and then it turned in and I said, all right, show me the end of it.
So we found out that it was a rectangle site and we ended up finding 1, 2, 3, 5 mass burial sites. And what it was from, was from the flu pandemic in the early 1900s and from a flood and from a train wreck. The train wrecked because of the flood – it washed out a trestle. So a lot of people died from these three events, from the flooding, from the train wreck and from the flu. And it was several hundred people that were buried in these sites. And we were able to tell whether it was adult male or female, or whether it was children, whether it was babies, whether it was young children, we can tell the sex of it. Another time I was asked to come up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, it’s a big resort ski area and resort area, and there’s some geysers there or hot water thermal areas.
And one of the places was wanting to do some upgrades to their facility. So they asked me to come up and identify the veins of thermal water flowing down to their pools. So we were able to pinpoint, I think it was five veins that were coming down off the slope and determine the depth, determine the yield, determine the temperature and towards the end of the day, I was just exhausted. And because you’re focusing so hard on dowsing.
But they said, well, up in this area, a dowser in the 70s told us that there’s a mass burial side up here from a group of native Americans that had been killed. And she said, and we’ve lost that information. Do you think that you could locate that? And I said, sure. So again, we were able to determine the area of this mass burial site. And then I was able to determine how many women, how many child, how many men and the owner of the property, who was there when it was dowsed in the 70s, she had a big smile on her face. And she goes, it’s almost exactly what we were told before, as far as the number of women, children, and men.
Kelly Rogers: So obviously you’ve been doing this a while. How long does it take for someone who’s starting to try to do this to really hone their skill set, enough to where they’re accurate? I mean, does it come pretty quickly or can it take a good number of years?
Jack Roberts: Because I had been dowsing throughout my life. I think I got onto it fairly fast, but to get to the point where I was willing to go out and tell somebody you need to drill well here, took me a long time to build up my confidence. Because I did not want to be the one that had someone go out and drill this well. And up here where I’m at, the wells are 5-900 feet deep, my particular one 600 feet. So it would’ve cost around $20,000. And I sure didn’t want someone to be drilling a dry hole. So took me quite a while to build my confidence up. Before I became confident in my dowsing skills, or when I first got in with the mile high dowsers, my well went dry and I thought, oh my God, what am I going to do? $20,000! I can’t afford that.
So, I contacted one of my mentors who is a well-known dowser. He has since died, but I called him up and said, Greg, my well went dry. What can I do? You know? And he said, well, all right, I want you to send me a sketch of your property and where your house is and let me know the directions that it’s facing and where your well is. And so I went into the computer and I crafted this up and I sent it off to him. And later that day, he called me and he says, okay, he says I dowsed your property. You’re right. There’s no water there. And my heart just sank. He says I found a dome of water about a quarter of a mile away from your house, and there’s a vein of water coming off of that dome that nobody has tapped into.
And he says, I have asked for that dome of water, or for that vein of water to redirect and come to your well, and he says, it should be there within 24 hours. And, I mean, then my spirits just soared. And I said, oh, Greg, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And so then we had the longest 24 hours of my life, as we waited to see if that water would come, I had to convince my wife. Let’s not call a well driller, because she was ready to call a well driller. And she wasn’t real keen on dowsing still.
And so we waited that 24 hours and I said, let’s wait a couple more hours just to be sure. So even because we just couldn’t stand the waiting, we went off to Denver, went to a movie so that we could be away from here. And then when we came home, we both came into the kitchen and I reached up and I turned on that faucet and there was water just flowing out. Like there had never been an issue before in those crystal clear and cold and I have never had an issue since.
Tiffany Long: So when you say that he asked for the water to be redirected, who’s he asking?
Jack Roberts: On that sketch. Then he sketched in how he wanted that vein to come over to my well and with his intentions, he was able to redirect. Now this happens many times, there are people, their wells will start producing less water or something. And for one reason or another that vein of water has began to move off. I don’t know if it’s magnetic pull and stuff or what it is, but a vein can over time can redirect. And we are able with our intentions and sometimes even physically go out, many people will use an iron rod and they will get on that vein of water. And they’ll put in an iron rod, they’ll go so many feet put in another iron rod. So it’s making an arc to get that vein of water going back redirected to the well. I was working with a family in Northern Colorado that had bought some property and the previous owners had drilled a well, and it was a real low producer and it was less than a quarter of a gallon, a minute that it would produce and this family wanted to put in a new well.
So, I went up and I had found two veins of water on their property. And so I located a site on each of those veins where the absolute best spot on each vein was. And I said, but before you do that, let’s do this before you drill. And so again, with my intentions, I was on that vein of water. And then I was asking, please redirect this water over into this well, and I told him, I said, okay, give this some time. It’s telling me there would be 48 hours before this vein of water comes over to your well, I said, you need to come back in before you call a well driller and pull the cap off your well and listen, see if you can actually hear the water entering into this well and if nothing else, you lower a vial down in and measure the depth of the water so we can see if the water’s coming in and how much storage you now have. So I have not heard back from them, but I fully expect that they have not had to drill.
Tiffany Long: Very cool. So if you’re tapping into energy, do you feel it in your body then?
Jack Roberts: Yeah, like for me, when I was preparing to dowse early on, I always, I raise my head up and I clear my thoughts and I can feel the energy coming down through my body, through my neck. I feel it coming through my shoulders. I feel it coming down my arms and I feel it come out to my fingertips and then tips of my fingers I’ll even start tingling. And then I’ll feel it come down through my torso and then down each leg, like right now, my legs are just tingling as I’m doing this and then down to my feet and then right out my toes. And then I know that I’m ready to dowse. And in the beginning it took me quite a while, a couple of minutes to do that process, but because I have been dowsing for so long, it’s instantaneous for me now. But right now my old body is just humming.
Kelly Rogers: Now, because we do work for an engineering firm. And a lot of our listeners will probably be from our industry. How would you convince them to believe that this is real? Like, what can you say that, like if you had a 60 second pitch to say this is real and you should believe this, what would you say?
Jack Roberts: Oh my goodness, that’s a tough one because there are a lot…
Kelly Rogers: You’ve got an audience.
Jack Roberts: There are a lot of folks out there that are, there’s just no way that this as possible. And I just say, come on, come with me, come spend five minutes with me. And the things that I can show you, we can go out and around any of your buildings and we can go out and we can find the underground power line to the phone lines, the sewer lines, the water lines.
Kelly Rogers: So, they could reach out to your group, The Mile High Dowsers, and you guys could show them how it works and give them a demonstration or have them come on out and walk around with you.
Jack Roberts: Absolutely.
Kelly Rogers: Awesome. Well, this has been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot today and it was a lot different than actually thought the way it worked. So…
Tiffany Long: Yes. Thank you so much for spending time with us.
Jack Roberts: You bet. You bet, guys. I enjoyed it. As you can tell. I love it. I love dowsing and I love to talk about it.
Tiffany Long: We want to thank Jack Roberts for his time today. This discussion was very informative about the art and practice of dowsing. If you want to find more information on dowsing, visit milehighdowsers.org or the American society of dowsers at dowsing.org.
Kelly Rogers: I bet many of our listeners out there have their own engineering legends. We’d love to hear from you. Please send your feedback, stories and ideas for future episodes. You can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. This podcast was brought to you by Brown and Caldwell. It’s our purpose and our passion to safeguard water, maintain infrastructure and restore habitats to keep our communities thriving. Until next time.