Restoration Update: Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel leads in stormwater management

Jamilee Hoffman
Mar 21, 2024

KI March 2024 blog (2)

by TTF Upstream Conservation Leader, Ryan Neuman and TTF Intern, Carol Nie

In a developed environment like suburban Philadelphia, stormwater runoff is the number one cause of pollution in our waterways. More people have become aware of the impact of stormwater runoff on our watersheds and our lives. During the past decade, TTF has partnered with a wide range of concerned local stakeholders to address their concerns about runoff and make a positive impact on our watershed. Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park is one of these organizations.

Our collaboration started when the congregation noticed many water puddles near the parking lot entrance and heavy stormwater flowing from the parking to Township Line Road. Hearing about TTF’s work from its congregants, executive director of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel Brian Rissinger, reached out to TTF for a potential partnership to undertake projects to help manage stormwater runoff.

Through this collaboration, we secured grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Project, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Watershed Restoration and Protection Program.

In Fall 2021, the first phase of the project started, with the installation of large subsurface storage tanks underground to capture and store runoff from the 1.25-acre flat rooftop. These storage chambers slow the movement of water and increase infiltration rates, which reduces runoff to the street. This runoff eventually ends up in the local creek system, carrying all kinds of pollutants along the way. You can read more about this project phase here.

Phase II of the project started in Fall 2022, with the installation of rain gardens in the parking lot to store and clean stormwater runoff. Three rain gardens were installed in the three corners of the parking lot. In total, 10,000 square feet of impervious asphalt surfaces were removed by shifting the parking lot inward and reducing the generous amount of space between rows. Rain gardens serve many uses: they not only manage runoff from the parking lot and slow the rush to the creek, but also green the space and reduce the thermal effect of the lot’s impervious surfaces. Two parking islands were also installed. A total of nine curb cuts were strategically placed to funnel runoff into the islands and gardens.

These projects wouldn’t be possible without our incredible volunteers and partners. Every year, we host monthly care days for volunteers to come together to plant native trees and contribute to our work. In 2022, we organized planting days in June, welcoming community volunteers who contributed more than 100 volunteer hours! Additionally, we held two fall maintenance and planting days last year: On October 28, we were joined by nine enthusiastic individuals from the American Society of Civil Engineers Young Member Forum, and on November 17, 12 students and teachers from Martin Saints Classical High School volunteered with us. The result? 750 golden ragwort plugs and over 60 arrowwood viburnum were planted at these events! It’s truly a collaborative effort to make a positive impact.

In 2023, over 1,600 native perennials and over 120 native trees and shrubs were added to the landscape. These plants mitigate the heat island effect and beautify the KI campus, filter stormwater, and provide habitat for native species. Species of natives planted on-site include blue flag iris (iris versicolor), soft rush (juncus effusus), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), golden ragwort (packera aurea) and black-eyed susan (rudbeckia fulgida). Species of trees and shrubs planted on site include: Alleghany serviceberry (amelanchier laevis), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Arrowwod viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).

The final phase of the KI project was the installation of another stormwater feature along the main drive of the building. This feature is a roughly 120-foot stone swale that manages .18 acres. The soil was excavated and stone added, to increase storage capacity. A speed bump was also added to the parking lot to redirect stormwater flow through the feature.

Another significant aspect of our work with KI pertains to Cheltenham Township’s adoption of a stormwater fee in 2022. The stormwater fee was implemented as a dedicated source of funding to manage stormwater, improve water quality, and mitigate flooding. Both residential and commercial properties pay a fee each year based on the amount of the property’s impervious coverage. You can read more about the stormwater fee on the township’s website.

In 2023, the township unveiled a crediting program; property owners can apply for up to a 50% reduction in their stormwater fee. They can receive this reduction by applying for a credit based on stormwater management on their property. Credit eligible projects include rain gardens, riparian buffers, green roofs, and pervious pavement subsurface storage.

TTF worked with KI during 2022 and 2023 to apply for a stormwater fee reduction based on the restoration work installed on the site. Based on the fee structure, KI would pay $13,860 for the year 2024 for their stormwater fee. KI has 225,996 square feet of impervious surfaces on site, equaling 63 ERU or Equivalent Residential Units. These are a measure of impervious ground cover for a typical Residential Property used in assessing the fees for each Developed Property, which has been determined to be 3,593 SF. Through the review process, it was determined that all of the stormwater measures on site managed roughly 47% of all impervious surfaces on site, equating to a 16.4% reduction in the stormwater fee for the year ($2,273.04).

Interested in visiting KI or learning more about how your institution can implement stormwater management tools to improve your bottom line and protect our waterways and community? Contact or 215-744-1853.




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