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New Green Stormwater Infrastructure at Holmesburg Baptist Church will Improve Water Quality in Pennypack Creek

Nature Conservancy GSI project supports Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters plan

A construction site in front of a church contains a large hole with workers inside. There are orange cones scattered around the site and a large construction vehicle sits on the right of the hole.
Green Infrastructure A partnership with Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy in NE Philadelphia implemented a series of green stormwater retrofit projects to capture stormwater runoff. © Severn Smith / TNC

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — The Pennsylvania and Delaware Chapter of The Nature Conservancy announced that construction has been completed on a Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) project that was installed at the Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy (HBC) located in the Holmesburg neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia. The new GSI systems will capture and clean an estimated 1.4 million gallons of stormwater annually before it flows into Pennypack Creek and the Delaware River.  The project is contributing to Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters plan, which aims to reduce the volume of stormwater entering the city’s combined sewers using green infrastructure, including rain gardens and other landscape features distributed across both public and private lands, in addition to expanding stormwater treatment capacity with traditional infrastructure improvements.

This program will help Philadelphia clean its waterways while also improving local communities, and The Nature Conservancy is committed to doing our part to help Philadelphia reach its clean water goals.

Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in PA/DE

The Green City, Clean Waters program is the type of innovative and ambitious plan that cities everywhere should be taking a closer look at,” said Lori Brennan, Executive Director for the Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “This program will help Philadelphia clean its waterways while also improving local communities, and The Nature Conservancy is committed to doing our part to help Philadelphia reach its clean water goals. We are honored and privileged to have worked with so many great partners on this project, including the Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy, the Philadelphia Water Department, AKRF, and Brandywine Stormwater.” 

The new GSI systems at Holmesburg were created by depaving part of the property and retrofitting the existing stormwater infrastructure on site to incorporate two subsurface retention basins and a garden of native plants that will retain and filter runoff. In addition to reducing the property’s water bill, the new infrastructure will also reduce overflows from the local sewer system, help address localized flooding on the property, create new habitat for pollinators, and provide educational opportunities for the Academy’s students to learn about nature-based solutions and their own connection to the local watershed. 

Cliff Kilbride is a member of the Holmesburg Baptist Church and was an early proponent of the project. “With both the church and myself having such deep roots in this community, this project was a way to give back,” said Kilbride. “To take the lead and show others the way while also addressing such basic issues such as the flooding of grounds and – in some small part – the flooding of the creek itself. By stepping in and doing some small part to help clean up our waterways; we preserve our past for our kids and give them the same opportunity to enjoy the delights and wonders of nature that we enjoyed as kids.”

This project came about after the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) approached the church about installing GSI on their property as part of their community outreach efforts. HBC then reached out to The Nature Conservancy for assistance with planning and implementation. The Conservancy collaborated directly with the church and project partners to ensure that the final design met their needs as well as the City’s.

“The Holmesburg Baptist Church project really highlights all the benefits for the community and environment that come with using green stormwater infrastructure to address stormwater pollution,” said Carla Windt, an engineer with the Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Billing & Incentives program, who helped facilitate the project“Thanks to partnerships like this and grant funding, properties all over the city now have green systems that are managing hundreds of millions of gallons of stormwater annually and making our neighborhoods more sustainable.”  

The project was largely funded by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) through their Stormwater Grants program, which helps non-residential properties fund green infrastructure improvements. The Nature Conservancy partnered with the engineering firm AKRF and Brandywine Stormwater on design and construction and is collaborating with both AKRF and Holmesburg Baptist Church on a plan for ongoing stewardship and maintenance of the systems.

On April 21, the Holmesburg project was recognized by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia with an Excellence in GSI award in the private project category at a ceremony held at FringeArts and La Peg. The awards recognize and celebrate GSI projects, innovations, and partnerships in the Philadelphia region.

Looking ahead, The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with additional community-based landowners and several organizational partners to accelerate green stormwater infrastructure and other climate resilience projects at a neighborhood scale in Philadelphia. The work is being done with support from the William Penn Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.