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Last weekend’s storm brought up to 8 feet of snow to the Tahoe area after a miserable ski season to date. While most of us don't ski, we certainly depend on the Sierra snowpack for water supply.

Kings River watermaster Steve Haugen says the Kings upper watershed saw snow levels down to 4,000 feet. Pine Flat Dam received 2 inches of rain so far in March with an average of just 3 inches of precipitation at the reservoir in a typical March.

For the San Joaquin Valley, March so far has been the wettest month of this water year, in a matter of a few days. Still, we have a long way to go, says Haugen, with forecasted runoff being under 40 percent of average.

”It would take a ‘March Miracle’ of huge proportion for Pine Flat to fill this year,” he adds. The reservoir closer to full  than usual because last year’s runoff was so huge.

The good news is that March looks wet, at least a week out, as we go forward and not just in the Tahoe region. No less than seven storms are expected to move into the state starting March 10-22 with wave after wave also affecting Central California. Of course, this could change but several models are in alignment for now. In February, Pine Flat saw only one-quarter inch of rain where typically it receives 3 1/4 inches.

As of March 2, the state snow water content index stands at 32 percent, up from 22 percent a few days earlier. The San Joaquin precipitation index now stands at 53 percent.

Brown may target Kings County census tracts for tax breaks

Five low-income census tracts in Kings County may be eligible for a new tax incentive program being rolled out by Governor Brown to be designated as “opportunity zones” eligible to receive federal tax breaks under the new GOP-passed tax plan.

Brown, like all governors, can select which census tracts in the state could get the incentives with hopes investors will improve business conditions. To be eligible tracts should show a poverty rate above 20 percent. All five have rates ranging from 36 percent to 52 percent including tracts around Avenal, Kettleman City, Home Garden and Corcoran.

The state will file the plan with the federal government later this month after receiving comments.

“The intention of the program was to ensure that underserved areas, under federal tax law, would be able to attract a little more investment,” says a state official.

Record high lumber prices pose a challenge

Want to build something? Better hold on to your wallet as lumber prices are the highest ever. Futures contracts for 1,000 board feet of lumber are trading at $510 this week. Prices are high in part because of a tariff on Canadian lumber coming into the U.S. imposed starting last November. The tariffs, as well as wildfires in the Northwest, are driving up the cost of homebuilding.

Plantings of new almond orchards slow

California farmers have planted new almond orchards at a slower pace this past year compared to the past two years. The state nursery sales report shows new orchards planted between June 2016 and May 2017 added to 40,000 acres compared to 72,000 acres and 77,000 acres for the two previous years.

In the latest year farmers planted 68,000 acres of trees including replacement trees that total 9.2 million. Farmers saw almond returns of $2.44 per pound in 2016, the lowest since 2011.

Climate change and California agriculture

California provides two-thirds of the United States’ produce, but with the rising temperatures that come with climate change, yields of some crops could drop 40 percent by 2050 says a new UC report.

Walnuts would be the hardest-hit crop because they "require the highest number of chill hours, implying a future decline in walnut acreage within the Valley," the authors state. Nearly 99 percent of the nation's supply of the crop originates from California and supports around three-quarters of the global supply of the nut.

Lemoore sees lower sales tax revenue

In Lemoore, sales tax revenues provide the second largest funding source for the 2017 fiscal year. Sales tax revenues were $1,752,910 - down from budget in the amount of $86,090 or 4.7 percent. The revenues are also down from prior year in the amount of $68,994 or 3.9 percent.

Mortgage rates creep toward five percent

This week Wells Fargo set its 30-year fixed mortgage rates at 4.62 and 4.68 percent APR. Their VA rate was 4.62 percent and 4.94 APR. The rates are up from 4.5 percent last week.

Districts rejoin Friant Water Authority

Looking to bolster chances the state will support their Temperance Flat funding application, two founding members of Friant Water Authority have announced they will rejoin the water contractors' organization. Both Chowchilla WD and Fresno Irrigation District, are returning.

“As two of the largest Friant Division contractors – both in acreage and water contracts – CWD and FID are critical voices for growers in the Valley. We’re pleased to welcome them both back to Friant Water Authority, an organization they helped found nearly 15 years ago,” said FWA Board Chair Kent Stephens.

John Lindt is an independent business reporter. He can be reached at sierra2thesea@gmail.com

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