College Station looks to diminish impacts of heat islands throughout the city

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 10:53 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - The City of College Station is starting to look into what it can do to mitigate the impacts of heat islands throughout its city limits.

Heat islands are located in certain pockets of the city that absorb and trap more heat than others. Typically, they’re in the more urbanized areas with high-rise buildings, parking lots, and asphalt roads. These heat islands can experience average temperatures that are five to ten degrees hotter than rural areas.

Michael Ostrowski is College Station’s planning and development services director. He and his staff are beginning to investigate where heat islands are causing the biggest problems in the city and which ones are in the direst need of action.

“In some instances, when you get to specific locations like parking lots that may be getting beat down from the sun all day long, those areas can experience temperatures upwards of 10 to 20 degrees difference than the more vegetative areas like parks,” Ostrowski said.

Ostrowski says heat islands can contribute to a number of negative impacts. He says they can cause increased energy consumption in trying to cool buildings in those areas, leading to higher energy bills. Heat islands can also lead to adverse health effects stemming from increased emissions or conditions causing heatstroke. They can even play a role in impairing water quality, he says.

“Areas that are experiencing heat, like roads and asphalt parking lots and the runoff that comes from them, that can increase the water temperature that runs off into the lakes and rivers of nearby communities,” Ostrowski said.

The City Council has asked staff to come up with a five-year plan to look at some of the areas where heat islands are having higher impacts in the city. Ostrowski says a potential solution is planting more trees.

“What we’ll be looking at first and foremost is vegetative cover,” Ostrowski said. “Oftentimes, as you get to large canopy trees that provide more shading, often it helps with the reduction of temperature.”

Since staff is still in the discovery and investigation phase, Ostrowski says it’s too early to have an idea of how much implementing solutions could cost. He says staff hopes to have a report in front of the council by early next year.

“Our next step would be identifying city-owned or controlled properties and looking at tree canopy covers within those areas and identifying where maybe we’re deficient,” Ostrowski said. “Then we’ll put a plan together looking at would it would take in terms of how many trees may need to be planted in those areas and the cost associated with those plantings. Hopefully, that will be completed over the next several months.”

Ostrowski says the city could explore potential tree programs to encourage private organizations to get involved as well.

“There are a number of communities across the country that have tree programs where they provide trees or grant programs to residents,” Ostrowski said. “They plant and maintain the tree for a certain number of years in order to get it established.”

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