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Rain, snow in parched Calif. forecast

SAN FRANCISCO — Meteorologists forecast a pair of storms that could dump several inches of rain on parched cities and croplands throughout California in the coming week, welcome news to a state that has endured its driest year in recorded history.

While the rain won’t be enough to end the drought, the National Weather Service projected Sunday that the precipitation could nearly double the amount of rainfall in parts of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area this year.

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By next Saturday, the twin Pacific storms are expected to bring as much as 2 inches of rain to the coast and several feet of snow to the Sierra Nevada.

Governor Jerry Brown last month declared a drought emergency after the state’s driest year in recorded history.

The thirst for water has sparked political battles in Washington, D.C., over use of the state’s rivers and reservoirs. This month President Obama visited the Central Valley, announcing millions of dollars in relief aid that in part will help the state’s ranchers and farmers better conserve and manage water.

With California’s agricultural heartland mired in drought, almond farmers are letting orchards dry up and in some cases making the tough call to have their trees torn out of the ground.

There are no figures available to show an exact number of orchards being removed, but the economic stakes and risks facing growers are clear. Almonds and other nuts are among the most high-value crops in the Central Valley, the biggest producer of such crops in the country. In 2012, California’s almond crop had an annual value of $5 billion.

Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he expects that almond growers will be removing trees through the spring and summer because of the drought. “I have no doubt permanent crops will be taken out because of this,” he added.

The high value of almonds has caught the eye of investors in recent years, who paid top dollar for land to plant almond orchards and cash in on the bonanza. Their value remains strong, making the decision for farmers to remove orchards difficult.

William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms in Coalinga, said he and his colleagues within the next 30 days will have to confront the decision about scaling back their almond orchards.

They've already decided not to plant 9,000 acres of vegetables.

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