Photos: Courtesy of Rae Huo
Article Written By: Michael Keany, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
Centuries ago, Nuuanu Valley was one of Oahu’s primary bread baskets, filled with taro, breadfruit and other staples of the Hawaiian diet. In order to irrigate their crops, Hawaiians built an elaborate system of ditches, called auwai, that diverted water from Nuuanu Stream, through the loi and then returned it to the stream.
What threatens it?
As Nuuanu Valley transitioned from agricultural to residential use, the land under the auwai was split up into smaller parcels, complicating oversight of the system. The Board of Water Supply once maintained the auwai, but today the task falls to the individual property owners in the neighborhood.
Attention to the auwai is spotty; out of 14 original auwai, there are now about eight that are either flowing or could be repaired. “New people move in and don’t understand what they’ve got in their backyards. They fill it in to have something else there,” says Shannon Wilson of the Nuuanu Valley Auwai Study Group, a neighborhood volunteer group dedicated to restoring the auwai. “It’s in everyone’s deed that they have to take care of their section of the waterway, but people don’t always read the fine print.”
What can be done?
At this point, it’s a matter of public education, making sure property owners with auwai segments know the best way to take care of them. The Nuuanu Valley Auwai Study Group is doing its best to spread the word. They’ll even handle the dirty work of repairing and maintaining an auwai section, if a property owner is unable. For more information, call Wilson at 595-2914.