Loudoun County's designation this week as a federal disaster area will allow some farmers whose crops have been damaged by the prolonged drought to seek low-interest loans to recoup their losses.

State officials said they are assessing damage in Loudoun and 20 other Virginia counties. Hay, corn, wheat and pine trees are among the hardest-hit crops, and many farmers have been forced to sell lean cattle at low prices rather than let them graze on farms where fields are brown and streams have dried up.

"This is making it tough on a lot of folks," said John Whitmore, who grows hay and raises cattle near Lucketts. He said the hardship is exacerbated in some areas of the county where farmers had not recovered from dry growing seasons the last two years.

Supervisor David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run) welcomed the disaster-area designation. "If it will help the farmers, I'm all for it," he said. "There's no relief in sight."

But many farmers are unlikely to apply for a loan because they hesitate to accumulate even low-interest debt that they may have trouble paying back if the weather doesn't improve, some farmers said. Even in good weather, county officials are looking for ways to shore up a sagging farm economy and keep farmers from calling it quits and selling their land.

Lloyd Frye, who raises corn and soybeans on 287 acres in Lucketts, said his crops have suffered from dry conditions for three consecutive years. "It's been awful bad, but I don't want to get a loan," said Frye, who has been farming since 1939 and lost money last year.

"I don't think we can anticipate much help, and we probably wouldn't ask for it," said Joe Rogers, who grows wheat and corn near Hamilton. Rogers said he still hopes his corn will survive but said he worries because there's little grass or water for his cattle.

"I opened some of the ears on the corn, and they are wonderful looking," Rogers said. "We're holding our breath."

While some farmers face the possible loss of their livelihood, residents of eastern Loudoun are coping with mandatory water usage restrictions, and residents of the west are watching the levels of their wells.

Since restrictions went into effect Sunday for customers of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority, deputies have issued at least eight verbal warnings, according to a sheriff's spokesman, Deputy Ed Pifer.

Some residents had to be reminded not to use hoses to water their lawns on the wrong day and never to use hoses to wash cars or pavement. The Wal-Mart store in Sterling was warned after workers there hosed down an auto-repair bay, Pifer said. Second-time violators could face fines of as much as $500.

Sanitation authority officials said that they have received few complaints and that the restrictions seem to be working.

"There's been a significant decrease [in water use] and a very positive response," said Dale C. Hammes, the authority's general manager.

On Sunday--the day the restrictions went into effect--county residents used about 12.3 million gallons, compared with 18.6 million gallons July 14, another day when temperatures soared, Hammes said. Although water use is still above the average daily demand of 9 million to 10 million gallons, it's a significant drop from typical summertime use.

Although the restrictions apply only to the authority's 30,000 residential and commercial customers in eastern Loudoun, residents in western Loudoun are conserving water as wells and springs also are threatened.

Newell J. Trask said the well at his Hamilton home seems to be in good shape, but he's still taking steps to conserve water.

"I'm doing what everyone else is doing," Trask said. "We never water our lawn. Period. We flush our toilet about twice a day and wash clothes and dishes only sparingly."

If weather forecasters are right, those efforts may become more critical. Although the National Weather Service predicts a slight chance of thunderstorms today, no significant rainfall is predicted in coming days.

Water Restrictions

These mandatory restrictions are in effect for the 30,000 residential and commercial customers of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority:

* Watering of lawns and landscaping, with containers of three gallons or less, is permitted only on an odd-even day basis. Residents and businesses with an odd street address may water lawns or landscaping only on odd calendar days, and those with even addresses may water only on even days.

* Washing cars, trucks and trailers is not permitted except using a container of three gallons or less, or using commercial wash facilities.

* Washing streets, driveways or other paved areas and buildings is not permitted except using containers of three gallons or less.

* Operating ornamental fountains is not permitted.

* Filling swimming pools or wading pools is not permitted unless the pool is already three-quarters full.

* Restaurants may not serve water unless it is specifically requested by the customer.

Call the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority's water conservation hot line at 703-771-6391 for more information.

25 Simple Ways To Save Water

1. Shorten your shower. Even a two-minute reduction can save as much as 700 gallons a month.

2. Using low-flow shower heads or flow restrictors in regular shower heads saves 500 to 800 gallons a month.

3. When you can, take a shallow bath instead of a shower. It saves 15 to 20 gallons each time.

4. Putting bathroom trash in the wastebasket and cigarettes in the ashtray instead of flushing saves 400 to 600 gallons a month per household.

5. Displacing water in the toilet tank with a plastic bottle filled with pebbles saves five gallons a day.

6. Check toilet for leaks by dropping dye tablets or food coloring in the tank. If color appears in the bowl without flushing, there's a leak.

7. Turning off the water while brushing your teeth saves three gallons a day.

8. Rinsing your razor with short blasts of water or by swishing it in a partially filled sink instead of running the water while you shave saves three gallons a day.

9. While you wait for hot water to come down the pipes, catching the flow in a watering can to use later on house plants saves 100 to 300 gallons a month.

10. Fixing leaking faucets and plumbing joints can save 20 gallons a day per leak.

11. Running only full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher saves 75 to 200 gallons a week.

12. Keeping a bottle of cold water in the refrigerator for drinking instead of running the tap saves 200 to 300 gallons a month.

13. Defrost food without running water over the packages. Planning ahead by placing frozen items in the refrigerator overnight or defrosting them in the microwave saves 50 to 150 gallons a month.

14. Using the garbage disposal less can save 50 to 150 gallons a month.

15. When washing dishes by hand, using a spray device or short blasts instead of letting the water run for rinsing saves 200 to 500 gallons a month.

16. When washing dishes by hand, using the least amount of detergent possible minimizes rinse water needed and saves 50 to 150 gallons a month.

17. Instead of running the sprinklers every day, watering the lawn only when it needs it or just giving it a good soak once a week saves 1,000 gallons a month. If the grass springs back when you step on it, there's no need to water.

18. Using mulch to cover bare ground in gardens and around trees slows evaporation and saves 1,000 gallons a month.

19. Using the cover on your swimming pool to cut down on evaporation saves 1,300 gallons a month. It will also keep your pool cleaner and reduce the need to add chemicals.

20. Watering the lawn in the early morning or evening when there's less evaporation saves 300 gallons a month.

21. Planting drought-resistant native trees and plants saves 1,000 gallons a month.

22. Adjusting your sprinklers so they don't water the sidewalk, driveway or street saves 500 gallons a month.

23. Not watering the lawn on a windy day when there's too much evaporation saves 200 to 300 gallons each time.

24. Adjusting or deactivating automatic sprinklers to avoid watering on cool, overcast or rainy days saves 200 to 300 gallons each time.

25. Setting lawn mower blades one notch higher means less evaporation from longer grass and saves 500 to 1,500 gallons a month.

Source: Loudoun County Sanitation Authority

CAPTION: Henry Stowers, standing in his field of 25 acres of corn in Leesburg, expects to get only about one-quarter of his normal yield this year.