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Easterners getting water-conservation habit

Even though recent rain and snow coupled with conservation efforts have brightened the water supply picture in the Northeast, experts warn that this section of the United States is going to have to acquire water-conservation habits that those in drier parts of the country have practiced for years.

"We in the East are going to have to have an increased awareness of the need for water conservation," says Joseph Panasci of the New York City Environment Protection Department, the agency spearheading the city's emergency water conservation efforts. "I'm talking about an attitude of conservation. People just don't have the recognition that water is limited."

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On Jan. 20, Mayor Edward I. Koch imposed mandatory conservation measures designed to cut daily use down to 1.25 billion gallons a day by April 1. New Yorkers, including businesses as well as private individuals, were using an average of 1.5 billion gallons a day before Jan. 20 -- and by Feb. 2 had cut use by 71 million gallons.

New Yorkers and residents of other Eastern cities are curbing water waste by using dishwashers and washing machines only when there is a full load, not running water when shaving, taking three-minute showers, and flushing toilets less often.

Con Edison, the electric utility, has asked it steam customers to curb their use further than last year when they reduced usage by about 425,000 gallons of water a day.

Mayor Koch's controls, which carry stiff fines for violations, prohibit the watering of lawns, noncommercial car washing, and open fire hydrants, among many other things.

"We're very grateful for the way conservation measures have been implemented, " says Mr. Panasci of the Environment Protection Department. "But there is still a lot that has to be done."

While officials were happy about this week's rain -- an estimated 1.5 to 2 inches fell in upstate New York, where the city's major reservoirs are -- they don't want people to be lulled into a false sen se of security.

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