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Tahoe Water for Fire Partnership, NSDC Seek Expansion of USDA Wildfire Mitigation Program to Close Water, Fire Infrastructure Gaps

April 13, 2023 | Cole Arreola-Karr

The National Special Districts Coalition (NSDC) joined the Tahoe Water for Fire Suppression Partnership in advocacy to expand a federal wildfire resiliency program to address gaps in adequate water infrastructure for firefighting in high-risk communities. 

NSDC, the Lake Tahoe-based Partnership, and the Association of California Water Agencies sent an April 13 letter to House and Senate agriculture committee leaderships requesting eligibility under the Community Wildfire Defense Grant (CWDG) program be expanded to include water infrastructure for fire suppression projects. The effort comes as Congress debates reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which includes USDA forestry programs.

CWDG was established with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to assist at-risk communities with the development of or revisions to community wildfire protection plans or to execute projects included in community plans that have been active 10 years at most. USDA prioritizes program funding for communities located in high or very high wildfire hazard zones, have been disaster-impacted, and are considered disadvantaged or underserved. 

The Coalition views the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program as an avenue to address gaps in adequate water for firefighting in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) using a relevant existing federal program. Water infrastructure for firefighting projects would fit well within CWDG, as comprehensive wildfire mitigation planning and implementation of community protection measures are core components of the program. Opening CWDG eligibility to include these projects would be a prime tool for special districts to leverage, as part of a broader community plan, to reduce risks to public safety, public health, the broader environment, as well as ease insurance costs for affected home and business owners. The policy change would help ensure the vibrancy and sustainability communities – especially in rural and WUI regions where many special districts provide services. 

The Tahoe Water for Fire Suppression Partnership is comprised of Lake Tahoe Basin water agencies collaborating with fire agencies, local, state, and federal governments, and non-governmental organizations  to protect at-risk communities in the Basin and surrounding federal forest lands from the threat of wildfire. The Tahoe City Public Utility District, a Tahoe Partnership member, is represented on an NSDC working group to address community gaps in water infrastructure for firefighting, which produced a white paper and set of federal legislative recommendations on the topic in July 2022. 

Contact Cole Arreola-Karr, NSDC Federal Advocacy Director, for more information.

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