People join a rally outside

Community announces legal action

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.

concrete barrier blocks the flow of stream water

Kawela Stream dam

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.

pipe gushes water into a man-made pond

Banking water while stream runs dry

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.


Taking Action to End Waste and Greed

  • Pre-19th century

    Moloka‘i is famed for its abundant nearshore fisheries, including Hawai‘i’s largest barrier reef and scores of loko i‘a (walled fish ponds) along the southern coast, all fed by stream and ground water flows into the ocean.

  • 1917-1988

    Moloka‘i Ranch constructs and operates stream diversion works on four streams above the central plain to supply its west-side ranching operations and irrigate land leased to pineapple companies.

  • 1992

    In response to an organized community push, the state Water Commission designates all of Moloka‘i as a groundwater management area under the Commission’s permitting authority.

  • 1996-2007

    Community members challenge the Ranch’s plans to take ground water from central Molokai for west-side development; win rulings from the Hawai‘i Supreme Court invalidating the Ranch’s ground water permits in the Waiola and Kukui cases.

  • 2008

    The Ranch shuts down its operations.

  • 2018

    The Hawai‘i Supreme Court confirms the Ranch needs a new permit to take ground water from its Well 17 to the west side; to date, the Ranch continues to take water with no permit.

  • 1900

    The American Sugar Company opens the first central Moloka‘i intake (now defunct) to take water for its crops on the drier western end of the island.

  • Mid-1980s

    Pineapple cultivation in west Moloka‘i ceases.

  • 1998

    The Ranch constructs two large reservoirs to store diverted mountain stream water for its development plans on the west side.

  • 2006

    The Moloka‘i community rallies against and defeats the Ranch’s last-ditch plans to develop the west end at Lā‘au Point.

  • 2008-present

    The Ranch continues to divert, hoard, and waste stream water far in excess of its needs, without any accountability to the affected communities and ecosystems.

  • July 2019

    Moloka‘i Nō Ka Heke brings legal action against the Ranch, demanding restoration of stream flows and accountability for the Ranch’s diversions; the matter remains pending before the state water commission.

    Read the full petition here