Lihue Plantation, founded in 1849, was one of the oldest sugar plantations in Hawaii. The original investors were Henry Pierce, a Boston businessman, William Little Lee, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and Charles Reed Bishop, founder of Bishop Bank and husband to Bernice Pauahi, noblest of Hawaii’s alii. Lihue Plantation was one of the best financed, most expensive and most modern sugar company’s in Hawaii.
Sugar is a thirsty crop, It takes approximately 500 gallons of water to produce one pound of sugar. It also takes 1,000,000 gallons of water per day to irrigate 100 acres of sugar cane. Thus, Kaua’i with its abundance of natural resources; land, sun and most importantly, water, was ideal for growing cane. Mount Wai’ale’ale(rippling waters)and Mount Kawaikini(waters or multitude), some of the wettest spots on earth provided enough water to meet the high demand that cane had for water.
In order to tap into Kaua’i’s natural water resources, Lihue Plantation had to develop methods of carrying the water from the mountains to the cane fields that stretched, in some cases, all the way to the ocean. Hence, in 1856, Hawaii‘s landmark ditch, the Rice Ditch, was pioneered on Lihue Plantation by William Harrison Rice. It was the first irrigation ditch project in Hawaii and although it was not the success it might have been, planters no longer had to look for perfect conditions, now they could create them.
In 1870, the Hanama‘ulu Ditch, the ditch system currently used for Kaua‘i Backcountry Adventures Tubing Expedition, was engineered and constructed. The makings of the 4 mile Hanama‘ulu Ditch was done by hand utilizing sledge hammers, spikes, picks and manual labor. Although, no records of the ditch building have been found as of yet, it was hard work which was done, most likely, by Chinese laborers. Each tunnel and waterway of the Hanama‘ulu Ditch was constructed a bit differently, some using hand cut rock, grouted and placed by hand and some cut out of existing mountain sides. It was hard, manual work and could be dangerous. It is said that it took up to 1,000 workers at one time to build each ditch and no ditch took more than 2 years to build.
Lihue Plantation’s water collection system is extensive and is made up of 51 miles of ditches with 18 intakes. 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. The four mile ditch system provides water to the Hanana’ulu basin. 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 closed their doors, one by one. Lihue Plantation was no exception. In November, 2000, Lihue Plantation was one of the last sugar plantations in Hawaii to close its doors