Spencer Powell and his drilling crew assembled behind the Living Word Harvester Church at a spot where, according to Powell’s ancient craft, they would find water.

Powell, 59, learned to dowse for water more than 40 years ago from an old “water witcher” known simply as Mr. Ray. Now Powell runs a dowsing and drilling business, Diversified Water Well Drilling, and carries a notebook filled with the lengthening list of those seeking his services. Demand has skyrocketed in recent months here, about 180 miles west of Dallas, and statewide, fueled by the ongoing drought, heat wave and a boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a type of oil drilling that requires lots of water.

To find the best place to drill behind the church, Powell stopped by a few weeks earlier and grabbed two L-shaped divining rods he keeps stowed in the back of his 1950s drill rig. Slowly, gripping the short ends of the rods, he walked through the grass near a few mesquite trees until he felt the rods move. Then they crossed, signaling a potential water source.

Then he recited a short prayer.

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