The long-legged and mean-tempered but water-saving camel is the symbol of a week-long program beginning Sunday that the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission hopes will teach its customers how to get over the hump of any future drought.

"'CAMEL WEEK' will be a 'DRY RUN' to determine how WSSC customers can work together as a team to reduce their water to meet just their essential needs," according to an announcement contained in 300,000 flyers that the agency is distributing to its 1.2 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

During Camel Week (May 22 to 29), the flyers suggest:

"FLUSH THE TOILET SPARINGLY, ONLY WHEN THERE ARE SOLIDS TO BE SENT DOWN THE DRAIN. IF YOU'RE REALLY INTERESTED IN SAVING WATER IN YOU WATER CLOSET FOR FLUSHING . . .

"REDUCE THE NUMBER OF BATH/SHOWERS IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD (REMEMBER THE SATURDAY NIGHT BATH - ONCE A WEEK!) . . . AND, BY ALL MEANS, TAKE SHORTER SHOWERS (five minutes is enough).

"HOW ABOUT PUTTING THE GARBAGE ON THE COMPOST PILE OR INTO THE REFUSE CONTAINER? THIS COULD SAVE MANY GALLONS A DAY" (normally used by garbage grinders).

The WSSC also urges customers to check for water leaks, to water plants, flower gardens and cars by hand, rather than by using the hose, and to turn the water off ("don't let it run") while they brush their teeth.

Customers are also being asked to dream up their own water-conservation measures, and enter them in a contest sponsored by the agency. Prizes will include 20 push-button toilet-modificiation flusher systems, which refill toilets with 2.5 gallons of water, instead of the usual five-to-seven, according to WSSC spokesman Art Brigham.

"In a real drought we could impose mandatory restrictions on the use of water outside the home for such things as gardens and car washing. However, we hope that voluntary conservation will help us avoid that," Brigham said. The agency hopes that during Camel Week customers will use 10 per cent less water than they did during the same period last year, when 143 million gallons were used, he added.

Although spring rains have been lighter than usual, there is no immediate answer danger of a local drought, according to Brigham.

Brigham said the one-bumped dromedary was first used as a WSSC symbol during Camel Day in 1972, although no results from that effort are recorded. The one-humped camel was chosen as a symbol over the two-humped camel because "a one-humped camel looked better running in our drawing than a two-humped camel did," he said.

As for the notoriously foul temper of all camels, Brigham said, "when they're on the run they don't have time to think bad things." Brigham did not say where the camel is supposed to be running to."