Desperate California Farmers Turn To “Water Witches” As Drought Deepens

Desperate California Farmers Turn To “Water Witches” As Drought Deepens

Tyler Durden’s pictureSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/20/2015 19:00 -0400

You know it’s bad when… With most of California experiencing “extreme to exceptional drought,” and the crisis now in its fourth year, state officials recently unleashed the first cutback to farmers’ water rights since 1977, ordering cities and towns to cut water use by as much as 36%. With the drought showing no sign of letting up any time soon, and the state’s agricultural industry suffering (a recent study by UC Davis projected that the drought would cost California’s economy $2.7 billion in 2015 alone), Yahoo reports farmers have begun desperately turning to “water witches” who “dowse” for water sources using rods and sticks.

As Yahoo reports,

With nearly 50 percent of the state in “exceptional drought” — the highest intensity on the scale — and no immediate relief in sight, Californians are increasingly turning to spiritual methods and even magic in their desperation to bring an end to the dry spell. At greatest risk is the state’s central farming valley, a region that provides fully half the nation’s fruit and vegetables. Already, hundreds of thousands of acres have been fallowed, and farmers say if they can’t find water to sustain their remaining crops, the drought could destroy their livelihoods, cause mass unemployment and damage the land in ways that could take decades to recover.

Meet Vern Tassey…

Vern Tassey doesn’t advertise. He’s never even had a business card. But here in California’s Central Valley, word has gotten around that he’s a man with “the gift,” and Tassey, a plainspoken, 76-year-old grandfather, has never been busier.

Farmers call him day and night — some from as far away as the outskirts of San Francisco and even across the state line in Nevada. They ask, sometimes even beg, him to come to their land. “Name your price,” one told him. But Tassey has so far declined. What he does has never been about money, he says, and he prefers to work closer to home.

And that’s where he was on a recent Wednesday morning, quietly marching along the edge of a bushy orange grove here in the heart of California’s citrus belt, where he’s lived nearly his entire life. Dressed in faded Wranglers, dusty work boots and an old cap, Tassey held in his hands a slender metal rod, which he clutched close to his chest and positioned outward like a sword as he slowly walked along the trees. Suddenly, the rod began to bounce up and down, as if it were possessed, and he quickly paused and scratched a spot in the dirt with his foot before continuing on.

A few feet away stood the Wollenmans — Guy, his brother Jody and their cousin Tommy — third-generation citrus farmers whose family maintains some of the oldest orange groves in the region. Like so many Central Valley farmers, their legacy is in danger — put at risk by California’s worst drought in decades. The lack of rain and snow runoff from the nearby Sierra Nevada has caused many of their wells to go dry. To save their hundreds of acres of trees, they’ll need to find new, deeper sources of water — and that’s where Tassey comes in.

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Tassey is what is known as a “water witch,” or a dowser — someone who uses little more than intuition and a rod or a stick to locate underground sources of water. It’s an ancient art that dates back at least to the 1500s — though some dowsers have argued the origins are even earlier, pointing to what they say is Biblical evidence of Moses using a rod to summon water. In California, farmers have been “witching the land” for decades — though the practitioners of this obscure ritual have never been as high profile or as in demand as during the last year.

“It’s an energy of some sort. … Like how some people can run a Ouija board. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t learn how to get it, but if you do have it, you have to learn how to use it,” he said. “It took me years to get my confidence. … At first, you are a bit leery of telling someone they are going to have to go dig a $50,000 hole. What if nothing is there? But over time, I learned to trust.”

Across the Central Valley, churches are admonishing their parishioners to pray for rain. Native American tribal leaders have been called in to say blessings on the land in hopes that water will come. But perhaps nothing is more unorthodox or popular than the water witches — even though the practice has been scorned by scientists and government officials who say there’s no evidence that water divining, as it is also known, actually works. They’ve dismissed the dowsers’ occasional success as the equivalent of a fortunate roll of the dice — nothing but pure, simple luck. But as the drought is expected to only get worse in coming months, it’s a gamble that many California farmers seem increasingly willing to take.

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As Gaius Publius (via Down woith Tyranny blog) concludes, here’s what’s more likely to happen…

The social contract will break in California and the rest of the Southwest (and don’t forget Mexico, which also has water rights from the Colorado and a reason to contest them). This will occur even if the fastest, man-on-the-moon–style conversion to renewables is attempted starting tomorrow.

This means, the very very rich will take the best for themselves and leave the rest of us to marinate in the consequences — to hang, in other words. (For a French-Saudi example of that, read this. Typical “the rich are always entitled” behavior.) This means war between the industries, regions, classes. The rich didn’t get where they are, don’t stay where they are, by surrender.

Government will have to decide between the wealthy and the citizenry. How do you expect that to go?

Government dithering and the increase in social conflict will delay real solutions until a wake-up moment. Then the real market will kick in — the market for agricultural land and the market for urban property. Both will start to decline in absolute value. If there’s a mass awareness moment when all of a sudden people in and out of the Southwest “get it,” those markets will collapse. Hedge funds will sell their interests in California agriculture as bad investments; urban populations will level, then shrink; the fountains in Las Vagas and the golf courses in Scottsdale will go brown and dry, collapsing those populations and economies as well.

Ask yourself — If you were thirty with a small family, would you move to Phoenix or Los Angeles County if the “no water” writing were on the wall and the population declining? Answer: Only if you had to, because land and housing would be suddenly affordable.

All of which means that the American Southwest has most likely passed a tipping point — over the cliff, but with a long way to the bottom to go.

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