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Sugar Water: Hawaii's Plantation Ditches

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Hawaii's sugar industry enjoyed great success for most of the 20th century, and its influence was felt across a broad 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.

206 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1996

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Carol Wilcox

7 books1 follower

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Adriane.
2 reviews
August 30, 2019
Very valuable reference book on an under-researched, fascinating topic
Profile Image for Gerald Kinro.
Author 2 books3 followers
April 8, 2012
As it is sweet, sugarcane is thirsty. To produce a single pound of sugar, it takes 4,000 pounds or 500 gallons of water. Correspondingly, producing a ton of sugar requires 4,000 tons or a million gallons of water. To illustrate the sheer quantity of water involved, a million gallons of water is barely enough to irrigate 100 acres per day.

In addition, whoever, controls water controls all else. With this, Hawaii’s sugar barons developed water sources and diverted water from parts of an island to another via a system of tunnels and ditches. The author describes the development of mountain sources of water and the tunnels and ditches that brought it to the sugar plantations. Then she weaves in the history of the sugar industry which changed the subsistence economy of the Hawaiians forever and brought Hawaii into the modern world. Included is much of Hawaii’s history, a history told from the perspective of valuable water resources. Diverted water is now a political issue, as many wish to see that water returned to their original locations.

This book is a good read. Done in a simple, straight-forward style, it illustrates the power of the sugar industry with its close ties to the monarchy and, later, the provisional and territorial governments.
Profile Image for Talia.
64 reviews
November 3, 2013
Read the first 3 chapters before I had to return to the library; loving it so far! Will definitely be coming back to finish this informative book.
Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews

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