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Pacific Landscaping owner Ray Anderson, who has had to take on demolition work due to the drought, is seen on dormant grass in Vancouver on Monday.DARRYL DYCK

Businesses dependent on water are making drastic changes in how they operate – from the services they offer to the staff they employ – as the economic impact of B.C.'s historic drought starts to bite.

Landscapers and pressure-washing companies have had to lay off staff and are looking to diversify their services, providing window cleaning and weeding, as greenery in the typically lush coastal region turns golden brown.

In the normally hot and dry Interior, the drought level was increased a notch for the South Thompson, Similkameen, Kettle and Skagit regions on Monday. Level-four drought conditions mean further declines in streams, lakes and aquifer levels could lead to water shortages and that everyone is encouraged to "maximize their water conservation efforts," the B.C. government said in a news release.

In Tsawwassen, landscaper Ray Anderson had his employees ripping concrete away from a building instead of their usual work.

"We had six people that were supposed to put in new lawns next week that are no longer doing it … we're just kind of focusing elsewhere," said Mr. Anderson, who owns Pacific Landscaping.

Though he hasn't had to lay anyone off yet, he has had to cut hours for some of his staff.

"It's about being creative with what you offer to customers," another landscaper, Tim Schofield of Mowology, said Monday. He said he is trying to supplement the more than 50 per cent of customers that are skipping the mowing of their lawns by offering to weed their gardens.

"Everybody's just stopped," Hedy Dyck, the chief operating officer of the BC Landscaping & Nursery Association, said Monday. She compared the brown lawns to Prairie grain fields, saying, "we've never seen them like this."

Ms. Dyck said many landscapers and pest-control companies have had to lay off employees because of the restrictions. European chafer beetle extermination requires water, she explained.

Plants in nurseries have gone dormant and cannot be dug up and replanted right now because of the stress it would cause them. Once in a client's garden, they would not get the water they need to survive anyway, she added.

One thing she hopes will get more care as the season grows dryer are trees, which in some cases have seen their leaves change. Strong and healthy trees are especially necessary during times of drought in order to rebuild the ozone layer, she said.

The tables at the David Hunter Garden Centre in Vancouver aren't as full as they usually are at this time of year, according to manager Laura Doheny.

"Whereas I usually have customers leaving with five or six plants, now they are buying maybe one or two," she explained. Gardeners aren't replacing their dead plants because they know "they won't be able to water them."

And though some municipalities allow watering during certain times of day, eyes have turned to those with green lawns as concerned residents report people they believe may be misusing potable water. The City of Vancouver has set up a mobile app to report cheaters and on social media, the hashtags #BCdrought and #grassholes have become central to a "drought-shaming" campaign.

Pressure-washing has also raised alarms, leading to cancellations of jobs that are allowed under the restrictions, such as preparation work for painting.

"Definitely, concerned neighbours or residents have sort of voiced up in those instances," Brett Murray, the owner of pressure-washing company Gum Fighters, said.

Only six of his 14 employees are working right now. The biggest impact on his business, Mr. Murray said, has been trying to find work for them.

"You know, you got a team of guys who at a point were expecting their full week and their full paycheque, then with the contracts being pushed or cancelled, they lose their shifts," he said. "It's absolutely tough finding the same hours for those guys."

He's tried to promote other areas of his business – window-cleaning and dryer-vent washing – which doesn't require water.

Mr. Murray, like many water-dependent businesses, is looking into ways he can conserve water in the future as officials warn dry periods could increase on the West Coast as the drought creeps up from California.

New technologies using softer pressure and more chemicals are one option in the pressure-washing industry, he said.

For gardens, drip irrigation is another way to cut consumption. Vancouver's VanDusen Gardens is dipping its toes in by introducing "gater bags." The bags filled with water can be attached to trees and plants and slowly empty themselves over 16 hours and act as a more efficient way plants can get the water they need.

"We've got additional employees waiting to help out if we need to [use more efficient ways to irrigate]," garden director Howard Normann explained.

Signs of stress have appeared on plants in the garden and staff are bracing themselves for more down the line, especially for its rarer collections. "This is new territory for us," he said of the drought.

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