Priority initiatives

NSDC Priority Initiatives

2023 National Special Districts Action Week

NSDC encourages special districts to advocate for priority issues during the second-annual National Special Districts Action Week (August 7-11, 2023) and throughout the month of August.

Special districts are called to advocate on the prioirty issues listed on this page.

CLICK HERE to access the 2023 Action Week documents and materials to make your special districts' advocacy engagement a success.

Defining "Special District"

Currently, federal law lacks a consistent definition of “special district” or “special purpose unit of government.” NSDC has led the charge since April 2020 to craft a federal definition with the primary objective to enhance districts’ access to federally funded programs (and other funding opportunities).

Ahead of an anticipated Congressional Research Service report on this topic and with open inquiries from the U.S. Census Bureau concerning districts, NSDC assembled a working group of special districts leaders from across the Coalition to develop a formal proposal for a definition.

The final definition proposal is still pending; however, there are three primary elements of how to define and consider a special district: (1) it’s status as a political subdivision of a state that (2) provides limited or specific services within specified boundary, and (3) is not a school district or other type of general purpose government.

Download a one-pager covering the need to define "special district."
Click here for a briefing and discussion guide. 

Addressing Community Gaps in Adequate Water Infrastructure for Firefighting

NSDC began examining community gaps in water infrastructure for firefighting following a number of fire protection and water district inquiries into assistance opportunities to address the issue. Unfortunately, existing federal programs that are otherwise popular for fire and water infrastructure either have limitations or restrictions preventing many local agencies from addressing these local gaps in public health and safety.

NSDC studied this policy matter with a working group of special district leaders providing fire and water services across nine states followed with a nationwide survey open to all local agencies providing fire and water services. Both types of public service providers expressed major concerns in providing robust, maximum community fire protection. The agencies acknowledged the systematic deficits and are widely interested in offering solutions to meet needs of public health and safety, but they experience hardships to provide critical fire suppression resources. Highlights of this issue include:

  1. Steep construction and maintenance costs of water infrastructure for firefighting.

  2. Grant barriers exist – primarily because there is no single, reliable source of financial assistance for projects with fire suppression infrastructure objectives. Smaller, more rural agencies experience staff capacity hardships in searching for, applying for, and executing grant programs.

  3. Water and fire agencies have two different missions and are often unable to efficiently communicate with each other. Fire agencies usually have a heavier burden on interagency communications with more territory falling under their jurisdictions. However, NSDC research indicates these two types of agencies would be willing to collaborate with each other to improve access to fire suppression resources if cost share funding opportunities existed.

  4. Rural water and fire agencies often operate on very lean budgets, which exacerbates the above issues. Furthermore, rural and wildland-urban interface communities may not have good access to any water resources and may not have a water agency with which to collaborate. In these communities, any water is sufficient for fire suppression needs, whereas water quality matters much more in urban communities.

National Working Group & Advocacy

NSDC assembled 24 water and fire protection district leaders from nine states to examine the infrastructure gaps and to formally recommend steps to enhance fire suppression and mitigate fire disaster in communities. The group recommends that Congress:

  • Establish pilot, stand-alone cost share grant programs under FEMA to directly aid all types of local governments to address infrastructure gaps for fire suppression needs.
  • Provide enhanced technical assistance for local agencies seeking funding opportunities for water and fire infrastructure.
  • Make additional appropriations and provide greater flexibility for FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.
  • Direct a FEMA administrative review of how Agency-approved local disaster mitigation plans are developed to ensure all agencies with eligible mitigation projects have an opportunity to participate.

The working group also offered recommendations to their trade associations and other organizations representing water and fire protection agencies to assist their members with these hardships as well. They recommend that organizations:

  • Facilitate communication and collaboration among fire protection and water suppliers.
  • Establish scholarship-style funding opportunities for agencies needing assistance to apply for grant and financing programs.
  • Form relationships with reliable grant writing partners to recommend agencies’ use.

Download the full report: Water Infrastructure for Firefighting: Providing Resources to Address Gaps in Public Health and Safety 

Advocacy Resources

Tahoe Water for Fire Suppression/NSDC/Association of California Water Agencies Letter: Open Community Wildfire Defense Grant (CWDG) to 'water for fire infrastructure' projects

NSDC Policy Briefing and Discussion Guide

Two-Page Issue Backgrounder: Community Gaps in Water Infrastructure for Firefighting