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Wellington City Council wins Skeptics award after contractor divines for water

Wellington City Council has been awarded for “showing the most egregious gullibility in the past year”.

The New Zealand Skeptics conference has awarded the council its annual “bent spoon” accolade for its contractor’s use of water divining to find underground pipes.

“Generally we like getting awards but we can’t accept this one,” council spokesman Richard MacLean said.

“We’ve always been sceptical about dowsing – most of us don’t think it works – we didn’t collectively come down in the last shower of rain.

“If one of our contractors wants to have a go at dowsing then they should fill their boots – as long as it doesn’t cost any money or result in random holes being dug all over the city.”

Conference spokesman Mark Honeychurch said the award went to the organisation “showing the most egregious gullibility in the past year”.

It was a close-run thing, with anti-vaxxers in the mix, as well as an alkaline-carrying water that could supposedly cure cancer, Honeychurch said.

“This one, for sheer stupidity, really stood out,” he said.

Jay Novella, a member of popular podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe said that water divining simply did not work.

This had been proven in a test with a water diviner having to tell which of two metal boxes had water in them.

“They did worse than chance,” Novella said.

The council earlier this year said there was no additional cost for the service from contractor Downer.

“Downer … do not actively promote this practice.

“However, from time to time, their teams may use this practice if it is safe, there is no additional cost to the customer and when used in conjunction with technology and service plans.”

Downer Group in March said the practice was one tool used to find underground water supplies while on contract to Wellington City Council, with the firm defending dowsing as being “used quite widely”.

“Farmers and the waste industry also use this practice to locate underground water sources, ” Gary Sue, regional manager of Wellington Transport Services at Downer wrote in an email to NZ Skeptics’ Craig Shearer.

“It’s not fool-proof but I am told it does work.”

Dowsing rods, also known as “divining rods”, are normal copper rods, but when a “diviner” moves them over water, they claim to feel vibrations in their arms.

For believers in the practice, electromagnetic current generated by water under the ground causes the vibrations.

But to scientists and sceptics, holders of the rods might as well use coathangers to find water.

Tom Hunt/Stuff