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Water use -- Government policy -- Hawaii -- Maui, Water use -- Law and legislation -- Hawaii -- Maui, Law and geography, Political ecology -- Hawaii, Water-supply -- Hawaii -- Management, Legal polycentricity


Throughout the Hawaiian Islands, sugar plantations have controlled a large proportion of water resources for over a century, often leaving little water in streams to support ecosystems or Native Hawaiian cultural and agricultural practices. Recently, in Maui, Hawai‘i, community activists and lawyers representing Native Hawaiian and environmental interests have successfully reclaimed water resources for instream flow utilizing legal processes and tools such as Hawai‘i’s public trust doctrine, which has plural roots in both Hawaiian and Western legal traditions. In this paper, we use qualitative fieldwork, including interviews, participant observation, and archival data collection, to explore two recent and ongoing legal cases around water allocation in Maui: Nā Wai ‘Ehā and East Maui. The research uses legal geography and political ecology to examine the use of the public trust doctrine in challenging water allocation practices in Maui, specifically focusing on the concepts of legal pluralism and socioenvironmental hybridity. We examine the ways in which plural legal processes and precedents have developed and combined in place-specific ways, and connect legal pluralism with ideas of hybridity from nature-society geography. In keeping with the goals of political ecology, the paper examines legal processes and socioenvironmental change as inextricable and power-laden. We demonstrate that the intersection of legal geography with political ecology can contribute a stronger understanding of the context-specific dynamics of socioenvironmental change.


This is the Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article that was subsequently published in Geoforum, Volume 110, March 2020, Pages 168-179, published by Elsevier. The version of record may be found at
This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license



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