Restoring Rivers and Streams in the Hawaiian Islands

Rivers and streams in the Hawaiian Islands are a public trust, and should not be drained dry for private profit and land development.

Case Overview

As the sugar plantation era phased out in Hawaiʻi, the water it had appropriated for a century should have been returned to taro fields and native habitat.

But the plantation companies turned to land development and kept taking the precious water.

A continued series of cases, several of which have gone all the way to the state supreme court, has reaffirmed the legal principle of water as a public trust and methodically succeeded in restoring flows to traditional uses.

“In the end, I believe [the Nā Wai ʻEhā] case will stand as a testament to the staying power of grassroots communities committed to justice and the ability of Earthjustice to champion their cause for the duration.

“We will not rest until justice—and The Four Great Waters of Maui—’roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'” – Isaac Moriwake, Attorney

Upper diversion on Waiheʻe River, with the entire flow of the river being diverted, in August 2010.
Upper diversion on Waiheʻe River, with the entire flow of the river being diverted, in August 2010. ()

Case Updates

August 17, 2023 In the News: The Guardian

Why was there no water to fight the fire in Maui?

An opinion piece by Naomi Klein and Kapuaʻala Sproat. Naomi Klein is the professor of climate justice and co-director of the Centre for Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia. Kapuaʻala Sproat is a Professor of Law at Ka Huli Ao Native Hawaiian Law Center & the Environmental Law Program. She also co-directs the Native Hawaiian Rights Clinic at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa’s William S Richardson School of Law and serves as Counsel for Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Office.

December 20, 2021 In the News: The Garden Island

BLNR renews KIUC permit despite local opposition

Leina‘ala Ley, Attorney, Mid-Pacific Office, Earthjustice: “KIUC admits it has not used water from the two diversions for the past two and a half years, and will not be able to use water for the foreseeable future because it has not repaired the siphon and it does not have plans, currently, to contract for those repairs.”

June 30, 2021 In the News: Honolulu Star Advertiser

Battle might not be pau over Maui stream water

Isaac Moriwake, Managing Attorney, Mid-Pacific Office, Earthjustice: “This is a model for 21st-century water management for all of Hawaii. We owe it to the community who carried the burden for this, and to future generations, to get it right.”