Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Meleimoana Su’esu’e makes this connection here…


The article “Alexander and Baldwin to restore water to 8 Maui streams” informs us on the current plans and legal situation of a large company in Hawaii known as A&B. This article is in the domain of hydraulics, as it focuses on future plans for the landmark irrigation system which has sparked political, social, and environmental debate amongst community members and government officials for the past decade. The East Maui Irrigation network (EMI) spans from the east side of the island to its central, dry region where most corporate agriculture is based. The states last operating sugar cane plantation sits in this naturally dry area, despite sugar cane being an extremely water intensive crop. The naturally hydrology of the island places most of the freshwater on the east side, on the windward side of the Haleakala mountain (Giambelluca et. al, 2013). The rain shadow caused by this mountain led to the construction of the EMI by A&B, using tunnels, flumes, and ditches to transport water to central agriculture lands. The construction of the EMI had negative impacts on local taro farmers, who received drastically less water on the east side.

This article discusses the recently announced plans for the EMI. The streams in the system will be restored to their natural flow at the end of the year. A&B has already released three of the streams, and will complete the restoration process once the plantation has been shut down. The permits that allowed A&B to hold control of this resource for the past decade were found to be issued through illegal practices within the DLNR. A&B plans to work with the state water commission for further stream restoration.

Based on my engineering education, hydrology and hydraulics knowledge, and personal experience growing up in community with predominant orographic precipitation, I can confirm that increased development within rain shadow regions creates noticeable imbalances in local economy and environment. The entire construction of the EMI was to counter the natural processes and hydrology of the island for (mostly) corporate benefit. We can see that structures like the EMI do not come without negative impacts on the natural ecosystem and the residents who depend on its resources. Input from the DLNR on issuing permits illegally could have been included to add to the impact of the article, and to assure residents how deceitful practices in government branches can be avoided in the future.

This WRE issue involves a broader economic impact. Local economies are also affected by water diversion practices, as traditional farmers receive less water to support their crops, while large plantations thrive. The implementation of EMI had various economic impacts on the community (Bassi A., et. al, 2009). Local farmers have fought the diversion of water for decades and will be happy to have increased access to water, allowing them to produce goods that can be sold locally. The increase in local production and sales will benefit the local economy, and provide residents with alternate ways of making money as the sugar cane industry retreats.



Figure 1- Map of East Maui Irrigation System (EMI).







Alexander & Baldwin (2011) Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Fact Sheet, Accessed

on April 26, 2016 at



Bassi A., et. al. Using an Integrated Participatory Modeling Approach to Assess Water Management Options and Support Community Conversations on Maui. Sustainability 2009, 1, 1331-1348.


Giambelluca, T.W., Q. Chen, A.G. Frazier, J.P. Price, Y.-L. Chen, P.-S. Chu, J.K. Eischeid, and D.M. Delparte, 2013: Online Rainfall Atlas of Hawai‘i. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 94, 313-316, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00228.1.