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Hawaii's H20 History

Ancient Times

Hundreds of thousands of Native Hawaiians draw fresh surface water and abide by laws governing water use. The ancient Hawaiians also create advanced agricultural irrigation systems.

The Hawaiian Dictionary’s definition for kanawai, or law, says, “Since some early laws concerned water (wai) rights, some have suggested that the word kanawai is derived from wai, water.”

Ancient Hawaiians drew fresh water from streams and wells, while abiding by strict laws. Photo courtesy: Honolulu Board of Water Supply

Cattle rancher James Campbell drills for water hundreds of feet down below the Ewa Plains. Within 10 years, Honolulu is supplied with artesian water.


Honolulu faces a water crisis due to overexploitation of ground water. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is created in 1929.


The state Supreme Court rules in McBryde vs. Robinson, saying private entities have rights to use surplus water, but the state is the actual water owner.


The Hawaii Legislature adopts the State Water Code. The code establishes the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM).


The CWRM adopts the Hawaii Water Plan (HWP) for planning and resource management.


Sugar plantations close, and water usage drops dramatically.


The Hawaii Supreme Court upholds CWRM’s power to protect streams and traditional water rights in the Waiahole Ditch case (see page 22). The court remands the case back to CWRM, with questions.


The Waiahole-Waikane communities, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends and Kamehameha Schools appeal CWRM’s final ruling, dividing Windward and Leeward water. The appeal is before the Hawaii Supreme Court. Kamehameha Schools (the second largest landowner after the state of Hawaii) withdraws a request to use 4.2 million gallons of Waiahole water daily on the Leeward side, citing its new strategic plan.


Peter Young is appointed director for Hawaii’s Department of Land & Natural Resources. The director serves as chairperson of the board of Land & Natural Resources and chairperson of the Commission on Water Resource Management.


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