More than 2 million residents of 114 drought-stricken towns began their first full day of water rationing today, as weather forecasters predicted the dry spell could last for months.

Gov. Brendan T. Byrne ordered residents in the six-county northern New Jersey area to cut water use by 25 percent -- a limit of 50 gallons a day per person.

The order translates into a three-minute shower, three toilet flushes, three-minute "personal hygiene" washups, and one full load of dishes and clothes per person per day.

Byrne's order, issued Saturday from the bottom of the empty Lake Tappan reservoir, which was close to its 3.2 billion gallon capacity in April, was the latest in a series of warnings, pleas and requests for residents in the heavily populated north quarter of the state to cut water use because of the summer dry spell.

Nonessential water uses, such as car washing or lawn sprinkling, have been banned in a six-county area since Sept. 9.

Newark homeowner Lucille Vitale, like others affected by the drought, has complied with those orders and pleas for voluntary conservation.

"I actually don't see where I could cut back anymore," Vitale said. "I only use the dishwater every other day. I take quick showers. I got used to not using the washing machine when it broke down for four weeks. I'm prepared for rationing."

Under the state plan, people who use excess amounts of water will be ordered to pay a surcharge and could face fines or possible criminal penalties. oWater companies will make spot checks, through meter readings and water bills, Byrne said.

Asked what New Jersey residents might drink instead of water, Byrne replied: "Irish whiskey."

"We need several weeks of steady rain to get out of this situation -- almost 40 days and 40 nights," said state Environmental Protection Commissioner Jerry English.

But the National Weather Service reported today that its latest forecast is for precipitation to continue below normal through mid-October. Rainfall since May has totaled about 10 inches below average.

George Haskew, vice president of Hackensack Water Co., owner of the parched reservoir, said at least 12 inches of rain are needed by year's end "for us to stay out of trouble. We need 23 inches of rain to be at full capacity by next spring."

Hackensack Water suppliers in northern New Jersey, has been particularly hard hit because of the lack of pipelines to carry water between companies.

Southern New Jersey also is suffering because of the drought, particularly farmland areas, but their situation isn't as severe because of a heavier dependence on wells.