Plantation: Water
Sugar is a thirsty crop. It takes one million gallons of water a day to irrigate 100 acres of sugarcane. (Sugar Water) Modern sugar planters knew that their success depended on moving water from the streams to their fields. Once this water left the watershed, it was never returned. How did the plantations alter traditional water management practices?
Plantation: Water uses Sugar Water by Carol Wilcox as a major source for pictures and text. Used with permission of the author.
Traditionally, the konohiki allocated the water resource based on individual use and
maintenance. When disputes over water arose, it was the konohiki who was responsible for their resolution.
(Sugar Water)
Limahuli kalo

After the mahele, water that had been used for the mutual benefit of all became water used for private gain. To support this new industry, the government allowed the sugar plantations to take as much water as they desired from the streams. This was in great contrast to the traditional practice of taking no more than 50% of the stream's flow. Once water is diverted into tunnels, it is not always possible to restore it to the watershed where it came from. (Sugar Water) Photo by D. Franzen
The five streams of Nawiliwili were all interrupted or diverted by reservoirs and ditches in their upper reaches by the plantation. Pu'ali Stream was cut off historically from its natural head waters. Now it is connected to reservoirs on the east and west sides of Puhi. (Kido)
This change in water use impacted those native planters who depended on a fair share of the stream resource. New disputes over the water resource ended up in the water commissions and courts. It is not surprising that that there was little protest over this change in water management. Hawaiians had lost their traditional culture, their population was being wiped out by disease, and their land was in the hands of foreign businessmen. (Sugar Water) Without land, the water resource meant nothing. (Damon)
A diversion like this could easily handle 50 million gallons a day. Photo by D. Franzen
(Sugar Water)
Traditionally, water rights went with land use. From 1850 to 1973, the commissions and courts consistently declared that surplus water went with the land, allowing the plantations the right to divert water to wherever they chose. (Sugar Water)
Many water diversions were so remote that their existence and impact were not recognized. (Sugar Water) Photo by D. Fleming

Lihu'e Plantation built 51 miles of ditches with 18 intakes from streams. Their system diverted an average of 100 - 140 million gallons a day. (Sugar Water) To the right, William Harrison Rice built Lihu'e Plantation the first sugar irrigation ditch in Hawai'i in 1856.

George N. Wilcox began building a series of modest ditches for Grove Farm in 1865. By the 1920's, Grove Farm had 16 miles of ditches diverting 26 million gallons a day, some of it through Ha'upu Ridge to Koloa Plantation - out of the watershed. (Sugar Water)
Grove Farm's Lower Ditch
Photo by D. Franzen (Sugar Water)

This flume carries water from Mt. Kahili into a tunnel through Kilohana - final destination, Lihu'e.
Photo by Adam Asquith.
The same flume, from the inside. Riding the water in these flumes was once a form of cheap entertainment. Photo by Adam Asquith.
Above, ditches for sugar water.
Map from Sugar Water
Another use for water that Hawaiians never considered was hydropower. Plantations built dams and used the flow to make electricity, run their water pumps, and power their mills. To the right, a dam was built on Nawiliwili Stream to create this pond to run the Lihu'e Mill. In the 1940's, Grove Farm built a power plant on Papakolea Stream.
Here's another angle on the Lihu'e Mill Pond - courtesy of the Baker Collection, Kaua'i Historical Society
How did this new sugar water affect the sustainability of the ahupua'a at Nawiliwili Bay?
Created June 2001