A Lesson Learned: Eucalyptus Trees and Water Sources

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024

Where It All Started

Western Kenya was once covered with indigenous trees thanks to the only tropical rainforest in Kenya: Kakamega Forest. But alongside the country’s rapid population growth, wood has become scarce. 

Wood is still widely used in Kenya, both for infrastructure and construction as well as daily home use through cooking (only 65% of homes in rural areas have access to electricity). As such, the area is now experiencing an increased demand for wood and Kakamega Forest is shrinking. Because indigenous tree species take such a long time to mature, Kenya’s people have sought out faster-growing alternatives — like eucalyptus trees.

But in our Western Kenya work area, there is no shortage of controversy over this non-native species.

The Problem

In 2019, our teams noticed a problem with our protected springs in Western Kenya. The water levels were falling, and it was taking longer and longer to fill up containers placed beneath the springs’ spouts. After that, it didn’t take long to identify the cause of this problem: all the springs with drying issues were flanked by groves of eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus trees behind one of our protected spring water sources.

Fast-growing eucalyptus trees were a seemingly perfect solution to bridge the scarcity gap for wood. But despite the speed advantage, their impact on ecosystems outweighs the positives. These trees consume between 40 liters to 90 liters of water daily — a massive amount of water considering how many trees are planted at one time. 

All this water-guzzling has stolen water from natural springs in their surrounding areas. The problem is worst in the Hamisi sub-county due to the widespread use of these trees. Their county abuts Kisumu City, where a lot of construction equates to a high demand for trees. The natives of Hamisi have resorted to planting eucalyptus trees to meet the ever-increasing demand for timber in Kisumu County — but they may not realize the negative effects. 

Eucalyptus trees dehydrate the soil and also cause hydrological imbalances in the ecosystem. For The Water Project, this means some of our protected springs have experienced reduced water yield. 

“We only have two springs decommissioned due to the presence of eucalyptus trees,” said Program Officer Sam Ngidiwe, who oversees operations in our Western Kenya service area. “However, we have 24 springs now classified as seasonal springs due to low discharge, primarily affected by the presence of [the] eucalyptus trees.”

Thankfully, through our initiative to spread safe, reliable water coverage across our service areas, each household and institution will have plenty of water sources to choose from, even if those seasonal springs Sam mentioned dry out for months at a time. And, to put things into perspective, only 0.5% of our water sources have been decommissioned throughout the entirety of The Water Project’s history.

Whenever we decommission a water point, we give the surrounding community the opportunity to construct another water point in their area. This is because our commitment is to people, not water points. If our water source is insufficient for a community’s need, we work to make sure we increase water access another way.

The Solution

Since we discovered the eucalyptus tree issue, we have taken strides to improve our future works and make them eucalyptus-proof. 

The first step in this process is to prevent the construction of water points on sites with an abundance of eucalyptus trees. We evaluate each potential construction site through a vetting survey, ruling out many potential hazards to future water points. Since we discovered eucalyptus trees’ effects on water sources, we’ve updated this survey.

Sam explained: “The Water Project has since improved the spring vetting survey to include questions on [the] spring’s details and the surrounding environment, such as: 

  • Are there eucalyptus trees uphill or downhill of the spring? 
  • What is the distance between the downhill eucalyptus and the spring? 
  • What is the distance between the uphill Eucalyptus and the spring? 

“Any ‘yes’ response to this [first] question will disqualify an unprotected spring for possible protection, even when the yield test meets the requirement.”

But to really curb this issue, more needs to be done. Just because a water point doesn’t have any eucalyptus trees around it when we take our survey doesn’t mean that an enterprising Kenyan won’t plant some, not knowing that they’re endangering their own water supply. To prevent this, we incorporated the hazards of eucalyptus as a topic in our trainings. 

Along with the construction of every water point, we train the entire community on hygiene and sanitation. And now, we also train the communities on how to conserve water by planting indigenous trees around water sources, and to cut down any eucalyptus trees that sprout up to conserve local groundwater reserves. As a replacement for lost income opportunities, we also added other topics like soap-making, planting indigenous tree nurseries, and growing fruit trees to open.

The Water Project is not alone in educating the Kenyan public about the dangers of planting eucalyptus. The Kenyan government, through both ward and community administrators, have supported our programs and helped in the management of eucalyptus tree planting control near water points. Both county and national government have resolved to put a solution to this menace through enacting laws that govern the planting of eucalyptus trees. 


Our journey with eucalyptus trees and water sources in Western Kenya has been a valuable lesson in the importance of local ecosystems and sustainable practices. Through diligent monitoring and community engagement, we’ve been able to address the issue head-on and implement solutions that will safeguard our water points for the future.

Transparency has always been at the heart of The Water Project’s work. We always work to ensure our supporters and the communities we serve are fully informed about both our challenges and our successes. By sharing our experiences and adapting our strategies, we not only improve our projects, but also build trust with those who believe in our mission — like you.

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