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Dowsing or smart technology – have your pick to locate underground water

While some parts of the world practice methods of ‘divine intervention’ to find underground leaks or water pipes, Australia proves that it is ahead of the pack with its latest technology.

Reports have recently brought to light discredited medieval practices that water utilities in the UK have been using to find leaks and pipes. Specifically, 10 of the 12 water companies in the UK admitted to employing dowsing.

Dowsing is an age-old technique to locate underground water. It involves a dowser holding two parallel sticks (or sometimes a single Y-pronged stick) called divining rods and walking over areas speculated to have water under the surface.

The branches of the sticks apparently twitch when over a water source.

The findings of such practices were established when science blogger Sally Le Page embarked on an investigation following a conversation with her parents, who told her that a technician from their UK-based water company, Severn Trent Water, was using a divining rod to navigate work in the area.

Le Page then tweeted to the company, confirming if such a method was used.

“The older methods are tried and tested and we do find them useful… We 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,” the company tweeted back.

“We do have some techs that still have them in the van and use them if they need to, however we prefer to use listening sticks and other methods.”

Le Page also sent inquiries to 11 other major water companies in the UK, with 10 confirming the use of this method.

“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.

This has spurred question if such practices are used in Australia.

Water Utilities Australia Client Services Manager Elly Alford said such a method isn’t used commonly within the organisation. Queensland Urban Utilities also confirmed to not using this method.

A spokesperson for SA Water mirrored the views of both the organisations.

“We don’t use the dowsing method to find leaks. In the Adelaide CBD, we have a suite of acoustic, flow and pressure sensors and loggers to help detect leaks before they can escalate,” she said.

The spokesperson went on to elaborate that SA Water recently invested $4 million in smart technology to help the utilities company manage the water supply network in the state’s CBD.

“Using smart sensors, we can track water flow and pressure to help us understand the network. This provides real time information to our Operations Control Centre.

“Smart meters will also help 100 large businesses in the CBD. Smart meters can improve water efficiency and help business customers manage their water use.”

According to SA Water, smart technology provides a real-time understanding of how the water network is operating and provides information for the delivery of better outcomes for customers.

“We are one of the first Australian water utilities to adopt it on this scale. The sensors and meters will be installed by the end of June 2017, with the full benefits expected in early 2018,” the company said.

However odd, dowsing has, after all, been around for decades and evidently, is still in use by some organisations that stand by its effectiveness.

Many can and will continue to argue that professional water company engineers using dowsing rods could possibly be responding to involuntary signals suggesting water underground – such as grass discolouration, moisture in the air, or even slightly softer land surfaces.

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