The community’s long battle against Moloka‘i Ranch’s ambitions to grab water for the development of its arid lands in west Moloka‘i is a fight for the very future of the island.
In the 1990s, Hawaiian homesteaders and cultural practitioners challenged the Ranch’s scheme to extract groundwater from central Moloka‘i for luxury resort development plans on the west side. Taking the fight all the way to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, the community won landmark rulings in the Waiola (2004) and Kukui (2007) cases rejecting the Ranch’s water permits and reaffirming the principle that diverters bear the burden to show no harm to Native Hawaiian rights. The Ranch shut down in 2008 but continues to take groundwater from its Well 17 with no permit.
Now, the community is demanding the return of flows to Kawela, Manawainui, Kaunakakai, and Waikolu Streams in the island’s central region. These streams were diverted for over a century for plantation agriculture. Yet, more than a decade after it shut down, the Ranch continues to divert and hoard the streamflows in idle reservoirs. Meanwhile, it’s been put up for sale by its Singapore-based parent.
Community group Moloka‘i Nō Ka Heke, represented by Earthjustice, took legal action in July 2019 to stop this waste and greed and restore the flow of water to stream and nearshore ecosystems and groundwater aquifers. This initiative to restore diverted streamflows continues the Moloka‘i community’s proud tradition of standing up for Moloka‘i’s water future to help perpetuate the island’s legendary momona (abundance) and way of life.