The term “water tower” may conjure an image of a tall steel structure with a large bulbous top. But is also applies to natural features, such as mountains or highlands, that collect water from rain or snow and release that water through rivers or underground flows.

Kenya’s 18 water towers, all mountains or mountain ranges, cover only a tiny percentage of the country’s landmass but provide the source for almost all of Kenya’s renewable water supply.

In Big Life’s area of operation, the Chyulu Hills is one of these. The hills are a natural feature that cause huge amounts of rain to fall in a relatively small area. The porous volcanic soil and rock soak up all of this rainfall and slowly direct it underground to distant springs, including the Mzima Springs which is famous for its hippos and crocodiles.

In the 1950s, this water resource was tapped to provide water for the coastal city of Mombasa, and today this pipeline accounts for one-third of the city’s water supply. It’s a reliable, sustainable water source, and it is estimated that the Chyulu Hills aquifer contains an incredible 158,503,231,415 gallons of water.

Protecting this natural asset costs money, which does not get paid by the downstream users in Mombasa and elsewhere. Until recently, these costs have fallen largely on the Kenya Wildlife Service and conservation NGO’s, but the establishment of the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project is now providing revenue from carbon credit sales to offset some of these costs.

The long-term protection of the Chyulu Hills, as a natural habitat and a vital water tower, requires action to prevent habitat destruction, deforestation, and fires, and restore degraded areas of the catchment.

None of this is cheap, but the cost of losing this priceless ecosystem is one that we (and millions of Kenyans) can’t afford. We remain committed, along with all other partner beneficiaries of the Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project, as a guardian of this important place.