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WAIAHOLE DITCH CASE STUDY. SITUATION. Commercial sugarcane production was established in leeward O'ahu in 1896.

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Commercial sugarcane production was established in leeward O'ahu in 1896.

In 1912 the Waiahole Water Company was formed to construct a ditch and tunnel system to divert stream and ground water from windward areas (Waiahole to Kahana) to the leeward sugar lands.

The total system is 40 km long, with almost 15 km of tunnels and an average flow rate of 100 mld. The flow of windward streams was reportedly reduced by about 40 %.

With the closing of O'ahu Sugar Company in early 1995, a struggle for the use of this water has pitted windward farmers and residents against leeward farmers, land owners and developers.

contrasting viewpoints

A Honolulu Advertiser article on October 6, 1996 (pp.B1&B4) offers the contrasting viewpoints of :

Alan Oshima (attorney for the Waiahole Irrigation Company, an Amfac subsidiary)


Vivien Lee (Waiahole resident)

leeward arguments
Leeward arguments:
  • Gravity flow water is cheaper
  • Ditch water needed to recharge aquifer
  • Leeward agriculture will improve state economy
  • High sunlight, productive conditions

Windward arguments:

  • Restore streams and bay ecosystems
  • Rejuvenate taro production (& Hawaiian culture)
  • Reduce “development of Leeward areas
  • Encourage water reuse in Ewa
Star-Bulletin -- April 25, 1997


A coming decision has major implications

for water allocation --

By Pat Omandam


Five years ago, Zeune Baccam decided growing cucumbers, string beans, soy, tomatoes, green onions and

eggplants for a living was far less demanding than his previous job raising money for the local Boy Scouts.

Today, Baccam, who immigrated from Laos to Hawaii in 1975, runs a successful cooperative of 30 small

vegetable farms in Mililani. But he said the stress has returned for all those whose livelihoods depend on

irrigation water from Waiahole Ditch.

"Without the water, we're finished," he said. "There's no other sources."

Kunia farmer Larry Jefts, whose watermelons and bell peppers grow plump with Waiahole water,

speculates it would be the end of farming on the Leeward plain if the ditch ran dry.

"That's not a hard call," Jefts said. "No water, and we're not here.” ...

Star-Bulletin Editorials

Friday, December 26, 1997

Sensible compromise on Waiahole Ditch

DIVIDING the 27 million gallons of water that flowed daily through the Waiahole Ditch to irrigate Leeward cane

fields was a task that could have taxed the wisdom of Solomon. The decision by the state Water Commission

strikes a balance between the needs of Windward and Leeward Oahu -- one that appears to give appropriate

consideration to both.

The commission's final decision allots 11.39 million gallons to Windward Oahu, almost twice the amount of its

earlier proposal. However, of that amount only 6 million gallons is guaranteed to remain on the Windward side of

the Koolaus. The other 5.39 million gallons would remain in Windward streams for the present but could be

diverted to Leeward Oahu in the future. An agricultural reserve of 1.58 million gallons, designated for Leeward

agriculture, would also remain on the Windward side for now. Leeward Oahu is awarded direct access to 15.61

million gallons, with the prospect of considerably more as needed.

Windward advocates denounced the decision, calling it politically motivated -- a charge that could have been

expected because they had proposed that all the Waiahole water remain on the Windward side. Their argument has

been that the water is needed to replenish streams that formerly nourished taro beds before the construction of the

ditch 81 years ago, and otherwise restore the environment.

However, even the minimum guaranteed allotment of six million gallons represents a historic shift of resources

back to the Windward side. And for the present at least, considerably more water would remain on the Windward

side. ...


Wednesday, February 11, 1998


Waiahole Ditch purchase moves forward in Senate

But some folks claim the state purchase will benefit landowners, not farmers

By Pat Omandam

Waiahole farmer John Reppun has a lot of respect for Mililani farmers who depend on irrigation

Waiahole Ditch for their livelihoods.

Reppun, however, doesn't believe the state should pay $10.2 million to buy the ditch system, because the

state, by law, has sole control to regulate the 27 million gallons of water that flow through it each day.

The committees on Economic Development, and on Water, Land and Hawaiian Affairs, forwarded a

Senate bill that authorizes the state to spend $10.2 million in reimbursable general obligation bonds

to buy the Waiahole system. It would take about 20 years to pay off the bonds.


Expenses to the state

Purchase price of the ditch: $10.2 million

Estimated annual operating cost: $550,000

Cost of needed repairs: $1.2 million

Flume in Uwao tunnel

Typical section of ditch

Gauge near Mililani

Redwood stave siphon

Waiahole farmer, Sisuke Serikaku

(Star-Bulletin July 12, 1998)


This case came before the Hawaii Water Commission in 1996. The Commission’s decision was to split the water flow so that allocation is as follows:

  • 40 mld (maximum) to Leeward agriculture
  • 4 mld to non-agricultural Leeward uses
  • 6 mld to “future agriculture”

(Leeward or Windward)

  • 50 mld to Waiahole stream
The remainder and any Leeward allocations not actually used, revert to the Windward side.

This decision is being appealed by several parties.

In 1999 the State purchased the ditch for $8.5 million -- users will be charged 35 cents per 4000 liters.

Small group discussion. Assume 50% of ditch flow is restored to Windward Streams.
  • Divide into groups of 3 – 4 students to discuss:
    • Economic/Social/Policy Issues:
    • costs/benefits of reducing ditch flow to Windward or Leeward communities,
    • potential for agriculture development – both Windward and Leeward,
    • what is the “community interest”?
    • Develop a research question
    • Outline a research project to study this question
    • Report back to the whole class