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Fresh Water in Hawaiʻi: Water in Agriculture

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

Books from the Catalog


Kelly, Marion, and Nālani Minton. Ahupuaʻa, Fishponds and Loʻi. Honolulu: Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina, 1992.
Call Number: VIDEOTAPE 7194

Provides an introduction to the Hawaiian land system and technologies which provided balance in Hawaiian society (for both Hawaiians and the ʻāina).  Divided into three parts: 1) Ahupuaʻa, 2) Fishponds, and 3) Loʻi.  Features taro farmers, fishermen, kumu hula, and other Hawaiian practitioners.


Lander, Joan, and Puhipau. Stolen Waters. Nāʻālehu, Hawaiʻi: Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina, 1996.
Call Number: DVD 3178

Provides a historical overview of the Waiāhole Ditch on Oʻahu.  Presents the viewpoints of residents and farmers in the area and calls for the restoration of stream ecosystems.  While its focus is on Oʻahu, this video provides insight into the water issues caused by the diversion of water for agribusiness; as such, the underlying story can be applied to other islands, such as Maui.


Pauole, Kelly, and Eddie Wendt. Release Our Water: Hawaiians on Issues Affecting East Maui. Maui, Hawaiʻi: Namaka Films, 2008.
Call Number: DVD 5413
A documentary about the water struggle and other issues facing
East Maui.  Discusses the continued fight for the return of fresh water to the streams in Hāna and Keʻanae.  Includes interviews with Ed Wendt, Kauʻi Kanakaole, Steven Hoʻokano, John Lind, "Boy Hanchett", and other residents of East Maui.

Articles and Other Sources

Franco, Robert W.  Water: Its Meaning and Management in Pre-Contact Hawaii.  Honolulu: Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1995.
Call Number: TD224 .H3 P76 no.PR-96-02
x, 76 pages.  Uses archaeological data (including charts, legends, and proverbs) to analyze water in Hawai
i.  Discusses the changing meanings of water due to economic, social, and political occurrences.  Examines early water rights and management on Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i.  Includes a glossary of Hawaiian terms at the beginning and a list of references at the end.

Kikuchi, William K. “Prehistoric Hawaiian Fishponds.” Science 193, no. 4250 (Jul. 23, 1976): 295-299.
Call Number: SH133.H3 K57
5 pages. Provides a brief overview of four types of Hawaiian fishponds – loko i‘a kalo, loko wai, loko pu‘uone and loko kuapā.  Includes a chart showing the relationship between Hawaiian agriculture and aquaculture, drawings of each fishpond type, and a basic map of distribution of fishponds (excluding loko i‘a kalo) in Hawai‘i. Explains fishponds traditionally served a religious and political function from the 14th to the 19th centuries, but that its function changed after the dismantling of the kapu system.

Nakuina, Emma M. Ancient Hawaiian Water Rights. Thrums Annual (1894): 79-84.
Call Number: DU622.A4
Available from Thrum's Online.
5 pages. Describes traditional Hawaiian water rights and
auwai.  Explains how contributions of labor resulted in larger shares of water for certain parcels.  Nakuina is often cited and regarded as an expert source on traditional Hawaiian agriculture, particularly relating to auwai.

Wadsworth, Harold Anderson. An Historical Summary of Irrigation in Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i, 1933.
Call Number: HD1739.H3 W34
54 pages. Originally published in the Hawaiian Planters
Record, a quarterly paper dedicated to Hawaiis sugar interests.  Provides a historical account of irrigation practices in Hawaii from the prehistoric agriculture implemented by Hawaiians to more modern irrigation works installed for the cultivation of sugar.  Includes a discussion of economic and political events that impacted water irrigation and use, including the Mahele of 1848.

Wadsworth, Harold Anderson. An irrigation census of Hawaii with some comparisons with continental United States. Honolulu: City and County of Honolulu, Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, 1935.
Call Number: HD1739.H3 W342

62 pages. Details the total investment in irrigation works for sugar cane lands and their relation to income both in the U.S. and in Hawai‘i.  Information for the paper was gathered from the Irrigation Census for the U.S. for 1930 (which did not account for the Territory of Hawai‘i) and reports by the engineering offices of each irrigated plantation in Hawai‘i.  Wadsworth acknowledges the difficulty of making exact comparisons between irrigation works in the U.S. and Hawai‘i due to economic conditions, but nevertheless recognizes Hawai‘i’s capital investment per acre of land irrigated to be substantially high and its irrigation investment as being surpassed by only seven of nineteen western states.  Includes photographs of dams and ditches and tables detailing the date of original construction, capacity, and undepreciated capital investment of ditches on Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i, Maui, and O‘ahu.