Marylanders should remain under the water restrictions imposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening at least through the end of the month, despite evidence that water consumption is down, a state panel of experts advised yesterday.

Conditions remain too dry to relax the ban on watering lawns or washing cars at home, officials said. The Potomac River is flowing at only 40 percent of its usual volume, and the Susquehanna River, which serves the Baltimore area, is at 30 percent of its normal flow.

"Right now it would be premature" to loosen restrictions, said state Department of the Environment Secretary Jane Nishida during a briefing on the latest drought statistics. "We're in no way out of the crisis."

Signs of the problem are showing up throughout Maryland. In Baltimore County, there has been a sharp increase in the number of residents whose private wells have gone dry. In May 1998, officials granted permits for five replacement wells; this May there were 28, said George Perdikakis, the county's director of environmental protection and resource management.

"I think we should stay right where we are" on restrictions, said Perdikakis, who serves on the task force. "If [the drought] continues, we're going to a see a worse problem with wells."

Officials are monitoring rainfall, water supplies, private wells and consumption as they decide how long to keep the statewide restrictions in place.

With those restrictions, the Maryland suburbs lead the Washington area in water conservation.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Montgomery and Prince George's counties, reported an 18 percent reduction since Glendening (D) imposed the restrictions Aug. 4. The region served by the Baltimore City water system, which includes portions of Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, saw a 16 percent decline in use. The two areas account for nearly two-thirds of the water consumed in Maryland.

In Virginia, water use is down 7 percent for the same period in Fairfax County, which like the Maryland suburbs gets much of its water from the Potomac River but has made water conservation measures voluntary. In the District, where residents also have been asked to cut back, water use is down 5 percent, and weekend use has been reduced 15 percent, according to the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

In Maryland, counties have been asked to designate drought coordinators to handle requests for exemptions from the restrictions. In Montgomery, that job falls to William Mooney, the county's assistant chief administrative officer, who has received four formal appeals so far.

Mooney granted three waivers, all for medical reasons. Two waivers will allow residents with arthritis to top off swimming pools that are needed for doctor-ordered physical therapy. The third waiver was granted to a woman with arthritis who wanted relief from a rule that her 60-year-old Norway maple had to be hand-watered.

"That was the only tree on her property I exempted," Mooney said. "And I told her she had to mulch the tree and to be there when it was being watered. She can't just turn on a hose and go to the store."

But Mooney said the fourth request likely will be rejected. The applicant wants a waiver so she can water her rare Japanese azaleas, which cover a third of an acre.

"We're hopeful that by being fairly strict, we'll get neighbors helping neighbors," Mooney said.

In Prince George's County, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer P. Michael Errico also has received four requests so far, all from companies that rely on water to do business. The county has yet to decide on the appeals.

Montgomery and Prince George's residents interested in seeking exemptions should call their respective drought coordinators to request an application. The number to call in Montgomery is 240-777-2600; in Prince George's, it is 301-952-4131. Rejected applications can be appealed to the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

Staff writers D'Vera Cohn and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

RESIDENTIAL WATER CONSERVATION

Across the region, residents are being asked to conserve water. In some areas, mandatory restrictions have been set.

MARYLAND: Mandatory

Residential water restrictions outlined by Gov. Parris N. Glendening:

* Lawns: Lawns may not be watered. Gardens may only be sprinkled with watering cans or a handheld hose. New lawns laid down or seeded after July 1 but before Aug. 4 may be hand watered between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

* Car washing: Homeowners may not wash cars. Commercial car washing is allowed, but those facilities that do not recycle at least 80 percent of their water must close each Tuesday and must attempt to cut back 10 percent on water use, like other businesses. Carwashes are prohibited from washing undercarriages of cars.

* Pools: Private pools may not be filled or topped off. Public pools, pools serving health care facilities and residential pools serving more than 25 units may be filled or topped off. Newly constructed pools may be filled.

* Paved surfaces: No washing of streets, roads, sidewalks, driveways, buildings, garages, parking areas or patios.

* Fountains: Operation of orna-mental fountains, artificial waterfalls and reflecting pools is not allowed.

* Restaurants: Restaurants may not serve water unless it is specifically requested.

VIRGINIA: Voluntary

Most Northern Virginia counties are asking residents to conserve water, but there are no mandatory restrictions except for the 30,000 residential and commercial customers of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority:

* Lawns: Daily watering of lawns and landscaping is permitted only using containers that are three gallons or less. Customers with addresses ending in odd numbers may water with a hose or sprinkler system on odd-numbered days of the month, those with even-numbered addresses on even-numbered days.

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

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

* Fountains: Operating ornamental fountains is not permitted. Filling swimming pools or wading pools is not permitted unless the pool is already three-fourths full.

* Restaurants: Restaurants may not serve water unless it is specifically requested.

THE DISTRICT: Voluntary

* Residents are being asked to use buckets rather than hoses to wash cars, shut off faucets when brushing teeth or shaving, and run laundry and dishwashers only when full.

For more information, call the state hot line*: 1-877-4-DROUGHT

* State drought hot line hours have been extended from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends.

-- Maria Glod, Jefferson Morley, Ann O'Hanlon contributed to this report.