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Lihue Plantation Irrigation Ditch

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()


Lihue Plantation was founded in 1849, and was one of the oldest, best financed, and most expensive sugar plantations in Hawaii. It takes approximately 500 gallons of water to produce one pound of sugar. Since Kaua'i had an abundance of natural resources, such as land, sun and water, it was ideal for growing cane. Mount Wai'ale'ale and Mount Kawaikini, are two of the wettest spots on Earth and supplied the cane with the water amount it needed.

However, methods at the Lihue Plantation had to be developed for carrying the water from the mountains to the cane fields that stretched very far. So, in 1856, Hawaii‘s landmark ditch, the Rice Ditch, was created by William Harrison Rice. It was the first irrigation ditch project in Hawaii; though it wasn’t quite the success they hoped for it became a work in progress. So, in 1870 a new and improved ditch was built, the Hanama‘ulu Ditch. This is the ditch system currently used for Kaua‘i Backcountry Adventures Tubing Expedition. This ditch is 4 miles and was done all by hand. Workers used sledge hammers, spikes, and picks to shape/create this system. Although, no records of the ditch building have been found as of yet, all the hard work most likely was done by Chinese laborers. Each tunnel and waterway of the Hanama‘ulu Ditch was constructed differently. Some used hand cut rock, grouted and placed by hand, while some cut out of existing mountain sides. It is said that it took up to 1,000 workers at one time to build each ditch, and all were finished in two years.

The Lihue Plantation's water system is made up of 51 miles of ditches with 18 intakes total. The Hanama'ulu Ditch System draws water as far away as the Hanalei Stream and merges with the North and South Fork of the Wailua River before it turns into the Hanama'ulu Ditch System. Today, the Hanama‘ulu Ditch System provides water for cattle ranchers, farmers, and feeds projects such as the Lihue airport gateway project.

In the late 1900's, Hawaii‘s sugar plantations began to close, and in November, 2000, Lihue Plantation followed. Today tubing tours are offered by Kaua‘i Backcountry Adventures. Visitors will float down this water system, and through the tunnels constructed over a century ago. It will flow through some of the most beautiful, and remote areas on the island.

3-4131 Kuhio Highway
Hanama'ulu, HI 96715
Phone Number
(808) 245-2506
  • Agriculture and Rural History
This location was created on 2014-04-22 by Rebekah Zuberbuehler .   It was last updated on 2014-04-23 by Rebekah Zuberbuehler .

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