As a landscaper, Kate Anchordoguy acknowledges the drought is giving her "a real moral dilemma."
On the one hand, the owner of Kate Anchordoguy Landscaping in Santa Rosa wants to provide work for her three employees and herself. On the other hand, she believes that 2014 may become the year for customers to leave one key element out of their landscaping projects: The plants.
"I think it's better than wasting water this year on establishing new plantings," she said.
Like agriculture, the landscaping industry has suffered in past droughts when residents and businesses cut back on installing new plants and on maintaining lawns and gardens.
Landscape contractors in Sonoma County differ markedly on the outlook for 2014, a year where state and local officials already are calling for a 20 percent cut in water consumption.
"If we don't get rain, it's really going to affect our business," said Jeff Pottorff, owner of North Bay Landscape Management in Petaluma.
Pottorff already has met with city officials in the East Bay and heard them say that without more rain they will dramatically cut back on the water they apply to the public landscapes that his 70-worker company maintains.
However, other landscapers believe their businesses will adapt and stay busy even through another dry year. They can do so by installing drought-tolerant plants and by working to help keep existing landscapes alive.
"I don't think I'll lose any business," said Linda Gottuso-Guay, who with her husband James owns Manzanita Landscape Construction in Santa Rosa. "I think people will call me to help."
Part of that help, landscapers said, may be to consider which plants to water and which to let die.
On the North Coast, the last 13 months have been the driest in 83 years of record keeping.
The next two months are considered the best hope for significant rainfall before summer. Santa Rosa on average receives nearly 90 percent of its rain between October and March.
In response, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a statewide drought emergency.
Meanwhile, Sonoma County and its cities are preparing to cut water use by 20 percent this year. For communities receiving water from the Russian River, the voluntary savings would amount to roughly 3 billion gallons.
The state Department of Water Resources has estimated the landscape and gardening industry lost $460 million in gross revenues and 5,600 full-time jobs in the drought year of 1991, or roughly a 7 percent cut in the $7 billion industry.
Harold Berkemeier, owner of Harold's Landscape - Maintenance in Cotati, said he took a bigger hit in the 1976-77 drought, until now considered the most consequential dry spell for North Bay homes and businesses. Berkemeier estimated his business dropped about 25 percent as property owners came under strict water rationing and stopped watering their lawns.
"They let their landscape maintenance people go," he recalled.
Berkemeier, a former Cotati mayor and council member, said without winter rains both landscapers and residents could find themselves in a tough spot again this year. But the region needs to conserve all the water it can, and cities "should be the first to show that they're going to cut way back" on parks and other landscapes.
Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association, said many of her 2,000 members already are getting calls from customers seeking advice on how to keep their plants alive.