"It's miserable as hell," moaned Buddy Hite, one of 19 Manassas Park home owners who have been 2 1/2 weeks without water for refusing to pay their water bills.

Hite and his wife, Jeanne, have been eating TV dinners and cereal out of the box, unable to wash dirty dishes. Their cups and cutlery are plastic. On the sill, their houseplants wither form thirst.

Evenings, they drape towels over their shoulders and knock at the door of their neighbors, the Holladays, to use the shower.

"My daily routine is right down the drain," said Hite, intending no pun. But whatever the inconveniences, he and his fellow protesters said they remain committed to bring down the cost of water and said they are prepared to continued to protest indefinitely.

Water bills in the largely blue-collar community of 1,850 households soared by as much at 400 percent last summer because of cost overruns in the construction of a regional sewage treatment facility, the purchase of treatment capacity greater than was needed, and leakage in the city's lines.

The city said it will not turn the water back on until the bills are paid or the Prince William County health department declares the situation a health hazard, something county health officials are reluctant to do.

Meanwhile, the protesters are facing the drought with equanimity and even bit of delight. A few visit the bathroom at town hail each day to use the toilet and fill jugs, pitchers and jars with water.

Anna Mae Afton and husband Robert have connected a 35-gallon water tank to their water pipes to provide hot and cold running water. Afton, a Manassas Park mechanic, keeps the tank full by bringing home 15 to 20 gallons of water at lunch time, and another 15 to 20 gallons when he returns in the evening.

For bathing and washing dishes, the Aftons ladle out some of the 2,500 gallons they put in their backyard swimming pool to meet the impending dry spell. Their ingenuity has forged a certain defiance.

"My husband's getting a kick out of it now. He says he won't let them put the water meter back in even if they want to," Anna Mae Afton, as she poured herself a glass of water from a plastic jug on the kitchen counter.

"When I got that water bill ($61 for two months) I made up my mind this was one thing I was going to fight," she said. Afton calls the confrontation the "rebellion" and said it induced her to register to vote fot the first time in her life.

For Elise and Michael Stallard and their two children, age 6 and 3, the 2 1/2 weeks without running water have been a challenge.

"You have to change your lifestyle a little bit. I'm used to it now. It's sort of like camping out, I guess," Elise Stallard said.

The Stallards often fill their pitchers at town hall and sometimes have a hose connected to a neighbor's tap which they use to fill the bath tub with water used for flushing to toilet.

Although they count themselves among the protesters, they say they could not afford to pay the $59 water bill for June and July even if they wanted to.

"My kids come first. They have to eat," said Elise Stallard.