Sugar water: The shifting dynamics of land use, water rights, and social and environmental justice in Maui, Hawaii

Authors: Alida Cantor*, Portland State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Legal Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: water, political ecology, Hawaii, legal geography, decolonial, public trust
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This research examines ‘more-than-legal’ contestations over water resources that occur in the context of broader political-ecological and cultural struggles. In Maui, Hawaii, water allocation systems have largely served the sugar industry for the last century. The recent decline of sugar production on Maui has raised questions of how water previously allocated to sugar should be allocated and the extent to which Native Hawaiians and environmentalists can stake a claim. These conflicts are not only about how water itself should be allocated; they tap into broader tensions around colonialism, sovereignty, and the value of nature. This research examines a) how multiscalar processes of land use change are opening opportunities for challenging historic patterns of water allocation; b) the legal, cultural, and political discourses used by Native Hawaiian groups and environmental groups to advocate for changes in water allocation, focusing on the prominence of the public trust doctrine; and c) how water rights are framed by different actors as private property as opposed to the state’s permission to use a public resource. The research integrates scholarship in the areas of political ecology, critical legal studies, decolonial studies, and water management.

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