The Atlantic

The Magic of Dowsing Keeps Holding On

In West Texas, a century of scientific debunking hasn’t convinced well-drillers to give up old beliefs.
Source: Eric Risberg / AP

FAR WEST TEXAS—Before Jeff Boyd became the city of Marfa’s public-works director, he had a long career underwater. As a commercial saturation diver, one of the most specialized kinds of divers around, he would spend his days some 400 feet below the surface, breathing a mixture of helium and oxygen, for month-long stretches. Normal air would kill at that depth.

It was around that time, when he worked at offshore drill rigs along the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche, a job for which he was regularly tasked with locating underwater pipelines, that he discovered he was a water witch. He calls it a gift.

Boyd, who has a Hulk Hogan painted on its side that rises above the hip, touristy town. As public-works director, he is in charge of maintaining and improving the city’s water supply and distribution, and often has to find existing underground pipelines. That’s where his sorcery comes in handy.

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