Searching for Water by Alastair Leithead

Lake levels are low, the fire risk is high and everyone in Portugal’s Alentejo is waiting and hoping this winter is going to bring us a load of rain.

Drought has been biting across Europe and a recent visitor to our valley – who last lived and farmed here in the 1980s – was astonished by how much less rainfall there is today. And it’s even more important when you’re living off the grid with no connection to the mains and no water company to call if the taps run dry.

Our borehole water is slightly mineral-salty and so we drink filtered rainwater which we collect when it rains. We used to buy bottled water, but the act of recycling made us realise just how much single-use plastic is wasted. The new system replaced regular runs to a local spring. But we need a more reliable supply, and so have been searching for a water guru to pick the perfect spot for a better borehole – and they aren’t cheap.

Digging a successful one is like rolling a die, where the only control you have over a high-stakes gamble is which good luck charm to choose. Finding underground water should be a science, but apparently, it’s more of an art – and there are a lot of people out there who think their way is the only way, and that anyone else is either a conman or a charlatan.
But there is one thing most can agree on: everyone in the water divining business is a little…odd.

The first guy pulled out his divining rods, showed us videos of him dancing shirtless and speaking the local lingo with some villagers in rural Angola, and then pointed at the place where our current borehole is and said the rocks and the quartz proved this was a good place to find water. I wasn’t terribly impressed by his divining intervention that we could find water where we knew there was already water, but hey.

The next guy went heavy on the “everyone else is rubbish” routine and then the next diviner who said his body ached when he walked over water and then spasmed on a spot in the trees.

Most diggers charge thousands of euros for cutting scores of metres through granite and schist with diamond-tipped drills…whether they find water or not. Then we got a hot tip from a local expert who told us about a brand new technique using electromagnetic waves to conclusively find water – for only €1,300 plus IVA.

Oh, we thought, now we’re talking: we invited electromagnetic “Sensor Man” over. After years of being a foreign correspondent I approach many things with a healthy dose of scepticism – especially after coming across cases in Iraq of detectors not doing what was promised. Enter the man with a good story and an interesting piece of kit – with S E N S O R written on the side – which apparently can identify the absolutely best place to dig for water.

The truth is it’s extremely difficult to predict exactly where or how much water is in an underground aquifer as I found out covering California drought for the BBC a few years ago. It took me to NASA for a satellite solution and is worth watching if only for the video footage of thirsty almond trees being harvested.

But then Sensor Man introduced me to the “GER Detect River G” system. I didn’t understand his explanation about how it worked, but that could have been lost in translation… however the company also claims to also magically find gold and diamonds.
Wow. We could strike water and precious metal… I must tell NASA.

Check them out and see what you think. The video is quite special, and where I don’t want to influence your judgement, I personally never trust a badly edited man behind a desk who doesn’t fasten his top button.

I drafted in a scientist and ionizing radiation expert friend whose first response was: “if somebody writes in huge letters ‘Sensor’ on a device I immediately suspect fraud… until proven otherwise.”

He didn’t understand ‘ionic radiation’ either (“there’s no such thing of course”) and found many unfavourable reviews on Amazon, so let’s just say that one isn’t going to work for us.
We’ve gone for body ache spasm-man… so let’s see how it goes. What could possibly go wrong?

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