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Fresh Water in Hawaiʻi: Home

This guide includes a selection of resources on fresh water, mainly focusing within the contexts of law and agriculture.


   This bibliography has been developed to support research on surface water rights in Hawaii, focusing particularly on works that detail the history and development of Hawaiian water rights.  The intended audience are landowners, in Hawai‘i, seeking to understand their own water rights. Nevertheless, this bibliography is also targeted at post-high students and researchers interested in water rights and law and assumes a basic understanding of land and water rights in Hawaii.

   Works on water law and those detailing the cultural, economic, and/or political aspects of fresh water are included.  A selected list of resources available through the University of Hawaii Voyager catalog and the Hawaii State Public Library System catalog are included along with resources publicly available on the Internet, such as government websites.  Additionally, the Water Resources Research Center & Environmental Center and the Hawaiian Waters - A Special GWLA-Sponsored Project collections in the University of Hawaii's ScholarSpace and eVols repositories respectively provided useful resources.  Books, articles, and websites are the principal publications in this bibliography; government documents and videos are also included.  Materials selected are all written in English; some include Hawaiian terms when explaining traditional Hawaiian land and water management. 

   Please note this is not a comprehensive bibliography and the materials included cannot answer all questions regarding water rights and management.  And while scientific studies of fresh water are regularly carried out and are heavily relied upon for water resource management, science materials (for example, items written entirely from biology and earth sciences perspectives) are not included in this bibliography.

Brief Overview

   Water is believed to be a physical manifestation of Kāne, who is considered one of the four major gods in Hawai‘i. In light of this spiritual belief, no one had ownership over water in traditional society, not even the ali‘i; instead, laws were created to manage water as a community resource.
   Kalo, the staple in Hawaiian diets, requires a steady supply of fresh water. Accordingly, the development of a just water distribution system was crucial to Hawaiian society. Because water managers and farmers relied upon each other to successfully carry out their responsibilities, water disputes were rare.
   However, with the increased settlement by foreigners from 1778 onwards, water sources became a growing concern. Enticed by Hawai‘i’s climate, foreigners flocked to the Islands to establish their businesses – sugar and pineapple plantations spread across Hawai‘i. With the growing demand for water and irrigation, ditch systems were introduced to transport water from Windward communities to plantations. It almost goes without saying how the spiritual significance of water was quickly overlooked in this new system of commoditization and profit.
   As D. Kapua‘ala Sproat reminds us in Ola I Ka Wai: A Legal Primer for Water Use and Management in Hawai‘i, “pu‘ali kalo i ka wai ‘ole – taro, for lack of water, grows misshapen.” Water diversions have stunted native life and Hawaiian communities that rely on fresh water streams. Hawaiians continue to protest the (naturalized) allocation of fresh water that leaves lo‘i thirsty and farmers unable to feed their families. Battles over water persist today. So, it is important to understand water law and equally advantageous to understand the history of water rights in Hawai‘i. To this end, this bibliography provides resources on water rights in Hawai‘i. In accessing these resources, you will gain a better understanding of Hawaiian water rights and be able to help ensure the health of our communities. Ola i ka wai – water is the life giving source!

Searching the Catalog

The following subject headings can be used for subject browse searches in the Voyager Catalog.

Subject Headings:

  • Water rights Hawaii
  • Water – Law and legislation –Hawaii
  • Water supply – Hawaii
  • Water resources development – Law and legislation – Hawaii

These are also useful for searching the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS) Catalog.

Author Information

This bibliography was compiled by Shavonn Matsuda for LIS 687, Spring 2012, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Research was completed in April 2012.

This bibliography was reviewed in 2014 by Kealiʻi MacKenzie.

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