Sugar Water

Sugar Water: Hawaii's Plantation Ditches

Copyright Date: 1996
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  • Book Info
    Sugar Water
    Book Description:

    Hawaii's sugar industry enjoyed great success for most of the 20th century, and its influence was felt across a broad spectrum: economics, politics, the environment, and society. This success was made possible, in part, through the liberal use of Hawaii's natural resources. Chief among these was water, which was needed in enormous quantities to grow and process sugarcane. Between 1856 and 1920, sugar planters built miles of ditches, diverting water from almost every watershed in Hawaii. "Ditch" is a humble term for these great waterways. By 1920, ditches, tunnels, and flumes were diverting over 800 million gallons a day from streams and mountains to the canefields and their mills. Sugar Water chronicles the building of Hawaii's ditches, the men who conceived, engineered, and constructed them, and the sugar plantations and water companies that ran them. It explains how traditional Hawaiian water rights and practices were affected by Western ways and how sugar economics transformed Hawaii from an insular, agrarian, and debt-ridden society into one of the most cosmopolitan and prosperous in the Pacific.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6450-7
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Standards and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Sugar is a thirsty crop.

    To produce 1 pound of sugar takes 4000 pounds of water, 500 gallons. One ton of sugar takes 4000 tons of water, a million gallons. One million gallons of water a day is needed to irrigate 100 acres of sugarcane.

    When Captain James Cook came ashore at Waimea, Kauai, in 1778, he saw Hawaiians using extensive and sophisticated irrigation systems, mainly to cultivate taro. They were also growing other crops, including sugarcane.

    A century after Cook—meaning a hundred years into the period of Western contact—sugar plantations started to dominate the landscape. For seventy...

  6. PART I: Sugar and Water in Hawaii
    • 1. Pioneers, Politics, and Profits
      (pp. 15-23)

      Nineteenth-century Hawaii was a place of opportunity, and many came to this land to try their skill or luck. Almost the entire sugar industry was peopled by immigrants: entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, laborers, skilled workers, and craftsmen came from the Pacific Islands, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Europe, and the United States. This was true of the sugar industry as a whole, and of water development too. And many of these immigrants made Hawaii their home. Hawaii itself was apani wai, a dam, diverting the flow of the ditch builders onto the land.

      Of all agricultural products, none is more...

    • 2. Water Use and Rights
      (pp. 24-42)

      The rise of sugar was not the harbinger of change to come, but rather a momentous step along the Hawaiian nation’s journey from a subsistence to a Western economy. It is a dramatic story, but also a sad one. The moment of contact with Captain Cook in 1778 launched the Hawaiians into a world that they embraced or they perished. A combination of events overwhelmed the native social structure, disrupted the traditional, communal village life, and increased dependency on foreign goods and currency long before the advent of sugar. Maintaining a subsistence economy within a Western framework seemed impossible, nor...

  7. PART II: Hawaii’s Ditches
    • 3. The Ditch Builders
      (pp. 45-53)

      While some of the key ditch builders werekeiki o ka ‘āina, children born of the land, the vast majority were immigrants. Among the Hawaii-born water development pioneers were William H. Rice, George N. Wilcox, Samuel T. Alexander, and Henry P. Baldwin. From points abroad arrived entrepreneurs Claus Spreckels, Valdemar Knudsen, Hans Faye, Theophilus Davies, Benjamin Dillingham, the McCandless brothers, and James Campbell. Generally without formal training, these men nevertheless conceived and executed the development of water projects to support mass production of sugar. Their vision was translated into water projects of great scope by engineers, every one of them...

    • 4. Early Efforts
      (pp. 54-67)

      Early nineteenth-century sugar irrigation efforts did not differ remarkably in scale or technology from traditional Hawaiian practices. The 1856 Rice Ditch, for instance, was only about 10 miles long and 2.5 feet wide by 2.5 feet deep. It was built by Hawaiians who earned 25 cents a day. In order to make it watertight, “the men tramped it all over to make the bottom hard.”¹ The main difference between the Hawaiian‘auwaiand the early sugar ditches was that now water was not returned to the stream and in fact was transferred for the first time out of its watershed....

    • 5. East Kauai
      (pp. 68-85)

      Lihue Plantation, founded in 1849, was the second-oldest plantation on Kauai (after Koloa Plantation) and one of the oldest in Hawaii. Over the next eighty years the plantation expanded its land base and improved its water system. It acquired Hanamaulu lands in 1870, interest in Koloa Plantation in 1871, and the Makee Plantation in 1933. In 1974 it leased some of Grove Farm’s cane lands when that company went out of sugar production. Lihue Plantation was irrigated entirely from gravity flow.

      Lihue Plantation developed a water collection system second only to East Maui Irrigation Company. Two entities administered this water...

    • 6. West Kauai
      (pp. 86-97)

      The Hawaiian Sugar Company was incorporated in 1889 with Henry P. Baldwin as principal shareholder. The company, better known locally as Makaweli Plantation, signed a fifty-year lease with Gay & Robinson for land on the west side of Kauai. After building a new mill at Kaumakani, Baldwin turned his attention to getting water from both the Olokele and Hanapepe rivers, both large watercourses by Hawaii standards. This undertaking, he estimated, would cost half a million dollars.

      The Hanapepe Ditch was designed by Baldwin himself, who despite his lack of formal training had demonstrated his considerable ability on the Hamakua Ditch...

    • 7. Oahu
      (pp. 98-113)

      Oahu Sugar Company was established in 1897 on the fertile but dry Ewa Plains in the lee of the Koolau Range. While the lowlands were irrigated from the Pearl Harbor aquifer, pumping water 550 feet up to themaukalands was costly, so the company looked for a mountain source. The nearest source of surface water was on the windward side of the Koolaus. In 1905, Oahu Sugar Company hired engineer Jorgen Jorgensen to explore the possibility of bringing that windward water to Ewa. After several surveys and feasibility studies, the Waiahole Ditch plan—recommended by engineer J. B. Lippencott,...

    • 8. East Maui
      (pp. 114-121)

      The alphabet soup of Hawaii’s companies gets especially thick on Maui. Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin were the founders of Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) and East Maui Irrigation Company (EMI). These two men started their illustrious career together in an informal partnership in 1869 with the purchase of 11.94 acres of Bush Ranch. In 1876 they formed the Hamakua Ditch Company and in 1878 completed the Hamakua Ditch—not to be confused with the 1904 Hamakua Ditch Company on Hawaii, which later changed its name to Hawaiian Irrigation Company, or that company’s Upper and Lower Hamakua ditches.

      During the ensuing...

    • 9. West Maui
      (pp. 122-137)

      Wailuku Sugar Company was first organized in 1862 by James Robinson & Company, Thomas Cummins, J. Fuller, and agent C. Brewer & Company, which gained controlling interest two years later. It was incorporated in 1875. Wailuku Sugar Company took over Waihee Plantation in 1895, at which time Spreckels’ 1882 Waihee Ditch became the source of conflict and legal action. Wailuku Sugar protested that Spreckels did not have a proper right-of-way across what was now its land. It further disputed his right to Waihee stream water and took the matter to court. But Spreckels lost control of HC&S long before this...

    • 10. Hawaii
      (pp. 138-160)

      In 1900 there were five plantations, each with its own mill, in Kohala. Small in size and poor in water, each plantation struggled independently to develop its water supplies. Kohala Sugar Company experimented with water development tunnels but with little success. At Niulii, a promising tunnel built in 1899 dried up in a few years. Halawa Plantation had three new reservoirs of “questionable suitability” due to an irregular supply from the streams. E. E. Oldings, manager of Hawi Sugar Company, irrigated about 600 acres with groundwater, but it was hard going. He got “one mgd at about 85 ft elev....

  8. Appendix 1: Letter from the Attorney General (1876)
    (pp. 163-166)
  9. Appendix 2: Hydroelectricity
    (pp. 167-172)
  10. Glossary of Hawaiian Words
    (pp. 173-174)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 175-180)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 181-186)
  13. Index
    (pp. 187-192)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 193-193)