Wilma Williams gingerly hosed the drooping petunias and impatiens outside her Annandale home yesterday morning, ignoring an appeal by Fairfax County officials for residents to comply voluntarily with an odd-even plan for outdoor water use.

It was Aug. 1, and even though Williams' Cindy Lane address ends in an even number, she was resolute that her garden should not be made to pay for it.

"Listen, I'm going to water this, then I'm quitting," said the 62-year-old secretary, her hand firmly attached to the hose. "I'm finished now; this is it."

Like Williams, hundreds of homeowners throughout the Washington area emerged yesterday to offer a reprieve to thirsty yards and plants that have suffered through an unrelenting heat wave.

"I'm not trying to keep this lush; I'm trying to keep this alive," said Bob Litman, who lives on Sandalwood Court in Fairfax County. Litman, who also has an even-numbered address, said he planned to water his lawn as well yesterday.

Where there once was green grass, mangy brown patches have spread. Flowers that a few weeks ago flaunted their splendor now teeter in a stupor.

But for this weekend, at least, area residents are being treated to weather more typical for this time of year, as a result of a cool air mass drifting from Canada. Yesterday's high temperature was 87 degrees, recorded at National Airport at 2:30 p.m.

Today promises mostly cloudy skies with a 50 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms and a high in the middle to upper 80s, according to Bob Oszajca, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. Tonight's temperatures are expected to drop to the low- to middle 70s.

The steam bath is expected to return tomorrow, with a high in the low 90s and a 40 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms, Oszajca said.

Last month's thermometer-rocketing temperatures, and the demand created for additional water and electricity, prompted Fairfax County officials to ask residents to limit their lawn and garden watering for the remainder of the summer.

Across the county yesterday, residents had derived their own interpretations of the county's request to use the odd-even system.

"I think the message is, 'Don't be extravagant, don't be wasteful,' " said Litman, who works for the Department of Labor.

Acknowledging that he was watering on his "off" day, he said: "This is the time I have to do it. Tomorrow is Sunday. We will go to church. We're a typical American family. My wife won't let me spend time gardening. She says, 'Spend Sunday with us.' "

But Bill Dudley, who lives at an even-numbered address in Springfield, said he would follow the schedule and wait for his time today.

"It's inconvenient . . . . I just hope they solve the problem soon. Everything is turning brown," said Dudley, who works for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While most area residents searched for ways to keep themselves and their lawns cool yesterday, some swimmers in Fairfax County tried to find the fastest way out of the water.

Thirty-seven participants at a swim meet at the Newington Station pool on DeLong Drive were "Everything is turning brown."

-- Bill Dudley

treated for eye irritation resulting from a heavier-than-normal amount of chlorine in the water. One of the swimmers was treated at Mount Vernon Hospital and released.

Fire and rescue officials said they did not know how the chlorine level reached five, about twice its usual reading.

"The rumor is something may have happened in the night. We have no idea how," lifeguard Jonelle Shmoldas said.