When we moved to the Washington area in 1977, we came from Contra Costa County, Calif., in the midst of a multiyear drought. Residential water conservation was necessary and was taken seriously.

If I remember correctly, each adult was allocated about 40 gallons per day, and each child 20. Excessive use was first penalized with very high rates, and the offender's water was turned off. There were no green lawns. Our trees and shrubs and berries were irrigated with shower water and washing machine water that was collected in the bathtub and laundry sink and siphoned out. Dishwater was used as well. Our plants did fine, and so did we.

Voluntary conservation saved little or nothing, and percentage reduction in use only allowed those who previously had wasted water to continue to do so, as do our current neighbors with the lush lawns and underground sprinklers that run daily, rain or shine. Allowing lawn watering once a week is a joke, because it doesn't limit the amount of water use. You could water for 24 or 48 hours straight and water only once.

However, before taking such drastic measures, our governor should be able to explain how our reduced water usage will help those areas such as Baltimore, where the shortage is much more acute. Perhaps he plans to pipe or truck the water to needy areas. If our conservation serves only to have more Potomac River water flow into the bay, it doesn't really seem to be worth the trouble.

Moreover, I have no problem with being told how much water is my fair share, but I deeply resent being told how to use it. I may prefer to skip a shower or two to save my azaleas, and that should be my decision alone.

ABRAHAM WEITZBERG

Potomac