Fabulous aerial photo of Jean, Nevada by Bobak Ha’Eri ….

As an investor, I take science seriously. The companies I invest in are at the cutting edge of science. zNano Membranes, for example, uses patented nanotechnology to clean some of the dirtiest water industry can create. You might be surprised, then, to hear that I also believe that dowsing works. You know, that thing where someone walks across open land with a wishbone-shaped stick in his hands and tells drillers where they can find water? Yep, along with a lifetime putting mining and water technology to work, I’ve also seen dowsing succeed.

Memories came flooding back a few days ago when an article titled “Into the Mystical and Inexplicable World of Dowsing” caught my eye in the May issue of Outside magazine. (For a multimedia experience, you might enjoy listening to a little desert-water music while you read this post: Desert Pete, written by Billy Edd Wheeler, performed by The Kingston Trio.)

I got my start in water about age 5. I grew up in a mining camp –  Jean, Nevada – outside Las Vegas. My parents moved there during World War II to mine lead and zinc for the war effort and then stayed on. The camp was served by a single well and when I was about 7, the old-timers decided we needed a new well. They hired a “water witcher” to come down from southern Utah and he successfully located a site. When that well came in, that “water bubbling and splashing outta that hole in the ground[i],” as the old guys called it, seemed like magic.  The guys were jumping around, slapping each other on the back, splashing their faces with the water and praising the lord.

The dowser’s success in Jean is just one I saw. Another took place in the small town of Enterprise, Utah, near a ranch my stepfather owned. The town needed a new well and hired a dowser, who located a spot to drill in the middle of Main Street. Officials closed off the street, drilled, and hit a bountiful water well.

Twenty years later I was still in Jean, still drinking water from the earlier well. The State of Nevada wanted to build a prison in Jean, but we needed better water. I decided to build a water and sewer utility, adding a reverse osmosis (RO) plant to produce drinking water. It wasn’t real big – around 50,00 gpd. I also installed a mile or so of concrete asbestos pipe – two lines actually: a 14-inch for fire flow and an 8-inch for drinking water. I also built a few million gallons of storage and, because I built those tanks at the foot a mountain, I built a pressure-reducing station to deliver water to the town in the valley below the prison. I also built a sewer treatment system. Both were regulated utilities and I spent a lot of time testifying for rate increases in front of Nevada’s Public Utility Commission. Eventually I sold the sewer system to the State of Nevada and the water system to the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

Forty years later, a friend introduced me to zNano Membranes. Back when I operated that RO plant, I bought membranes from Dow. I’d stayed in touch with the technology because we had some other RO plants we’d constructed to serve casinos we’d built in areas not served by municipal water systems. It seemed to me that the technology hadn’t changed much in the previous forty years. Now, zNano had invented a technology that revolutionized how membranes worked and designed applications for them, including cleaning difficult-to-treat wastewaters. I should have taken a clue from the fact that the technology hadn’t changed much in those forty years, though. I’ve been funding zNano for more than five years and just got a product into the commercial market in the past year. Come to think of it, that’s actually quick by water industry standards.

So yeah, I’m a science guy. But I also like a side of mystery now and then.