THE REGION

Fairfax City Seeks Limits on Water Use

Fairfax City asked residents to restrict their water usage yesterday because its supplementary reservoir, in Loudoun County, is 16 feet below normal.

The call for voluntary restrictions in the city of 22,000 residents came as the National Weather Service reported that the metropolitan region remains in an extreme drought, with deteriorating conditions despite light rainfall in the last two weeks. Forecasters said rainfall has been 30 percent below normal over the past six months.

The 12-month period that ended May 31 was the second driest on record for Maryland and the third driest for Virginia, the Weather Service said.

Fairfax City officials are asking residents to take shorter showers, fill their dishwashers and washing machines before operating them and use small buckets instead of hoses for washing cars and watering lawns.

City spokesman Todd Hoffman said officials had expected the city's backup reservoir "to replenish over the winter, but that didn't happen. . . . Because of the recent drought, it got worse and worse."

Fairfax County, which has more and larger reservoirs than the city it surrounds, is not experiencing water supply problems, officials said yesterday.

Mayor Asks Dowsers to Find Water

Billy Eckstine, mayor of Myersville in western Frederick County, Md., is so desperate to find water for his town that he is turning to dowsers--people who use divining rods to find underground water sources.

Three wells drilled on sites recommended by geologists have come up dry, but Eckstine said two dowsers, one using willow sticks and one using metal rods, believe there is water at another location, beneath a subdivision. Eckstine proposes to drill there.

"I can't do any worse with dowsers," he said.

Council member Robert Lowry, who is also president of the community homeowners association, said residents will consent to drilling as long as the land will be restored afterward.

Because of the drought, Eckstine has ordered an end to lawn watering until water is found.

THE DISTRICT

Corrections Workers Face 8-Day Furlough

Hundreds of employees of the D.C. Department of Corrections are being forced to take eight days without pay because of a budget shortfall.

In a letter to employees, Corrections Director Odie Washington said all nonuniformed workers must take the eight-day furlough between the end of the month and September. Washington said he and other administrators also will take the eight days without pay.

"I apologize for having to take such a drastic measure," Washington said in the letter.

The furlough is necessary to help eliminate a multimillion-dollar shortfall before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, Washington said.

Start-Up Troubles Hit Referral System

The District's new Answers Please social service referral system was unable to take most incoming calls for about two hours yesterday because of trouble with a city computer system.

The Answers Please attendants are supposed to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to refer D.C. residents in need of social services to about 1,000 different private and government agencies. But the 463-6211 (INFO-211) telephone system, which officially started taking calls Tuesday, has had some start-up trouble, program supervisor Lucille Knowles said.

MARYLAND

Microsoft Gets Contract With Universities

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a contract yesterday between the state university system and Microsoft that will allow students and staff members in dozens of school systems, community colleges and public universities to obtain software at greatly reduced costs.

Under the agreement, eligible users will pay $14 for each year of the three-year agreement for a range of software that includes word processing, spreadsheet, Internet browser and presentations programs that normally retail to educators for $150 each. Microsoft has similar contracts in other states.

The University System, comprising 13 institutions of higher education in Maryland, will pay Microsoft $1.5 million under the nonexclusive contract. The 65 members of a state educational consortium, with a total of 287,000 students, will reimburse the system as part of the deal.

Among the participating institutions are community colleges in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the Prince George's County school system.

VIRGINIA

Richmond Panel Authorizes Portraits

A committee of 19 community leaders in Richmond approved a revised set of historic portraits for the city's Canal Walk yesterday, including a new one of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Lee would be joined in the gallery by a diverse group of historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, who visited the Confederate capital as the Civil War ended; Spotswood Robinson, a black federal appeals court judge in the District from 1966 to 1989; and Powhatan Beaty, a black Civil War hero for the Union. Robinson and Beaty were from Richmond.

The new images, which have been on public display, will go to the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation, which oversees the Canal Walk, then to the City Council. The foundation removed the originally planned portrait of Lee after a protest that it was offensive to African Americans. The removal touched off a new controversy and led to formation of the committee to review the display.

The committee proposed replacing the formal portrait of Lee with a picture taken on the back porch of his house in Richmond a few days after the surrender at Appomattox. Lee is wearing his uniform, but the Confederate insignia has been removed.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Amber is doing exceedingly well. I am very optimistic about her state right now, and I am optimistic about her future. But I don't have a crystal ball, and I don't like to predict things I can't control."

--neurologist John M. Freeman, who is treating 15-year-old Amber Ramirez, who had half her brain surgically removed to stave off debilitating seizures.

--Page B1