Farmers in drought-hit New South Wales are calling in water diviners and bore drillers in a desperate bid to discover groundwater on their properties and save their businesses.
The cellar door at Bob Derrick’s winery on the outskirts of Orange in the state’s Central West region had run out of water.
After briefly closing the cellar door at Montoro Wines Mr Derrick began paying for water to be carted in to keep his business operating.
Knowing it was an expensive, short-term solution, Mr Derrick decided to call in drillers to dig down in the hope of finding water below ground.
And it worked with almost immediate success.
“We weren’t confident we’d find water, but we had to give it a try,” Mr Derrick said.
‘The luck of the draw’
After drilling down through layers of dry dirt and rock Mr Derrick finally found what he had been hoping for.
“I’ve never seen the area as dry, so when the drill hit 20m and made its way through the basalt we had a small flow of water.”
After the small sign of water the drillers kept going until at 53m there was a good flow of water, which Mr Derrick said was like finding gold.
“It’s a lovely feeling to find water, it’s just great.
“But it’s just luck of the draw. We could have been going down even further and still not have got it.”
The vines at Montoro Wines do not use irrigation as the roots go down into the watertable, but without water access to the cellar door the business would have had to close.
Since the water find, Mr Derrick has been installing a solar pumping system to bring the water up to a drinking-quality level.
Bore drillers rushed off their feet
Owner of Central West Water Bores, Michael O’Neill, has been drilling for water for more than 40 years and said he has never been so busy.
“The most important part is going to a property and determining where water is most likely to be found and where a bore could go.
“Using the 28-tonne drilling rig we have, we can find water 90 per cent of the time.”
Despite the gamble, people are willing to spend what can be in the tens of thousands of dollars in the hope of finding water.
Bore drillers in the Central West can dig more than 20m into the ground to reach water, with the average depth being 60m.
In some cases, when water has not been found, customers have made the difficult decision to cut their losses and stop drilling.
Mr O’Neill said the process can be challenging depending on the type of rock the drilling machines need to break through, but when water is found it is especially rewarding.
“People appreciate what I do for them, they can be over the moon,” he said.
Mr O’Neill said most of his clients are farmers and those living on small acreages, but he has seen a rise in the number of domestic households in towns looking for water for gardens.
Property owners need to get a licence from WaterNSW before water drilling can begin.
Water divining still utilised
As well as drilling bores Mr O’Neill is also a water diviner.
“When there’s water the wire will swing across your body, and once it swings you’re on the edge of a stream and can find a good place to start digging.”
While Mr O’Neill utilises the pratice he said it has its limitations.
“While water divining can find water, it doesn’t tell you how far down you need to dig to find water,” Mr O’Neill said.
“There’s a huge amount of water underground and it [accessing ground water] is the best way to drought-proof your property.
“I love what I do — I love finding water!”
‘No scientific proof’
While some swear by using divining methods to locate a water source, others are not so sure of its effectiveness.
“There’s no scientific proof of water divining working, it’s still unproven,” Martin Andersen of the University of New South Wales’ Water Research Laboratory said.
“The fact they do water divining and they drill and find water might just be luck. The water might be there anyway.
“The way we drill for water in Australia is mostly through using the local knowledge of drillers and their understanding of the geology and, while not always successful, they’re your best bet.”
Associate Professor Andersen said the biggest unknown for sustainable use of groundwater resources is the hydrological processes that control groundwater in terms of replenishment by rain and how it may change with climate change.
“It’s like having a bank account without knowing when somebody is going to make a deposit into it and how much.”
Associate Professor Andersen said only a small portion of rain ends up in groundwater supplies, and he would like to see more research conducted into how much rainfall becomes groundwater.
“We need to use the groundwater resources more sensibly as a drought buffer because at the moment we are overusing the groundwater supply in some catchments and in the long-term it isn’t sustainable.”