Only in a water crisis would someone boast about not taking a bath.

"I haven't had one in two days," Arlene Clark, a Kensington student claimed yesterday. It was all part of her contribution toward saving water, she said. "I can go a week if the situation stays this bad."

Meanwhile across the street, her neighbors were watering their lawn. "Can you believe that? How can people be so inconsiderate?" she wondered, peering out her window.

The differing attitudes of these neighbors could be seen throughout Montgomery County yesterday as the area endured its second day of water shortages.

Most people contacted by reporters yesterday said they understood that there was a lack of water and claimed to be doing something to save it. They took sponge baths, put off doing the laundry, saved dishwater and noted, with some comfort, that while their lawns turned brown, so did those belonging to other homeowners.

"It's a sense of civic pride," said one resident. "I'd hate to think that because I hoarded a little water that patients in a hospital might run into emergencies."

Still, some people kept their lawn sprinklers running, and Montgomery County police report their switchboard jammed with complaints from irate water-savers.

"The calls are coming in faster than I can count them." said one dispatcher. "They're saying things like, "I can't even take a bath and the golf course is getting watered. Why?"

Police have been responding as they can, warning people that they can now be cited for wasting water, and violaters have been heeding the warnings, police reported. As of early last evening they had issued no summons.

The management at Montgomery Village in Gaithersburg received so many complaints about watering the golf course that it stopped - even though it had posted signs explaining that the water came from a nearby company water retention pond. "Just say we shut off the irrigation for public relations purposes," said one management official.

Officials in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties yesterday urged residents to save more water and ordered them to stop outdoor use of water or face possible fines and imprisonment.

While most residents understood there was some sort of crisis yesterday, some did not know why.

"I thought it was a drought and the storage tanks were low, isn't that right?" asked a resident of Laytonia. Others thought their water lines were leaking. "I think the problem is in the pumps, isn't it?" said one resident. "All I know is that I'm sure I'll still get my water bill."

People who turned on radios and television sets yesterday heard varying reports of when the water pressure would return to normal. Many listeners and viewers were openly cynical.

"I hear on TV it's going to be 48 hours, but from what I've seen it'll probably be another 48 hours after that," said John Taylor, owner of a Chevy Chase barber shop.

Residents had been told Wednesday that the fire-damaged pumps would be working again by Wednesday night, but officials said yesterday the water system would not be at full capacity until midnight Saturday - and then only if people save a lot of water.

Most seemed to be doing that yesterday.

"So far we're surviving," said Rayca of Laytonia. "but we just got back from vacation and I can't even do the laundry. We're running out of clothes. I'm relying on the 48 hours we heard about on the news. Right now I'm viewing it as a vacation from housework."

Most businesses contacted yesterday were cutting back on water in some way, from restaurants that eliminated iced tea and stopped serving water to car washes that closed down entirely.

Nurserymen have been particularly hard hit by the shortage, with most having been asked by local officials to stop watering their stock.

William Burton, owner of a Hyattsville nursery, said "I've coped with all kinds of problems over the last 40 years - freezes, floods, droughts, grubs in lawns, but I don't know what I'm gonna do if I don't get to water tomorrow. We are losing plants."

Burton said tens of thousands of dollars worth of newly laid sod apparently would be destroyed because it could not get the water needed every day. "The hemlocks, arbovitae, ilex all the hollies went brown yesterday," he said. "Sometimes we can bring them back, sometimes we have to cut them back halfway."

Burton, as well as others, were particularly critical of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission for what they believed was the failure to maintain a sufficient backup water system. "It's just plain stupid," Burton said.

Most of yesterday's conservation efforts by businesses were taken voluntarily or after telephone requests from the WSSC.

The National Institutes of Health told 3,000 workers not to report because the water-cooled air conditioning system in its vast administrative offices had been turned off. At the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg only 150 of 2,900 employees showed up for work for the same reason.

Elsewhere, other businesses, including several cleaning and laundry establishments, conducted business as usual, figuring the water they used was necessary.

The shortage has been a boon for local distributors of bottled water, who can get it elsewhere. "I've been up all night filling orders," said Les Weir, general manager of the Borden Polar Water Co. in Beltsville.

The WSSC ordered bottlers of soft drinks in the two counties to stop production to save water and plant officials yesterday worried about their supply. "This is our peak period and we don't have the kind of inventory that will last," said an official of the Washington Seven-Up Bottling Co. in Forrestville.

At the Washington Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Silver Spring employees polished machines and swept floors in 90-degree heat instead of bottling Coke. "Everbody's complaining," said a plant official.

Hospitals and nursing homes reported that air conditionaing had been switched off in nonpatient areas, cold food was being served and some routine baths and bed changes had been eliminated.

At least 13 Montgomery restaurants were ordered closed yesterday after they ran out of water. "We did it from a health standpoint - if there's no water, people can't wash their hands," said an official of the County Department of Environmental Protection.

One Bethesda nurseryman reported using only 10 per cent of the water normally necessary for his plants but that it was more important for firemen to have water.

Firemen said there was enough pressure in hydrants throughout the countries to fight major fires, although in some places support from tanker trucks would be needed.

Officials of Giant Food Inc. which has 17 stores in Montgomery County, ordered some restrooms and water fountains shut down to conserve water, but there were no plans to close stores. Giant has its own fleet of trucks to import water from outside the affected area.

Bob Litz, district manager of 7-Eleven stores in Maryland, said Montgomery and Prince George's stores have shut off ice makers and hot dog machines . . . "Every store has been instructed to conserve water but ot stay in business," he said.

Most of the restaurants contacted reported they were taking some water conservation steps.

"No one's had a drop of water in here today," said hostess Alice Sparling of Michel's restaurant in Bethesda. Other restaurants reported that they would not use dishwaters until they were full.

Bob's Big Boy restaurants are using paper and plastic dishware, according to a spokesman. Ice machines have been shut off, no coffee is being served, and the restrooms are opened only upon request in order to slow use.

Matre d' Jeff Watkins at Normandy Farm in Potomac reported that although the restaurant gets all its water from a well, they have nonetheless stopped watering the shrubbery. "If people saw us doing that they wouldn't understand," Watkins said. One Chevy Chase resident, Bryant A. Hopkins, said he has found a way to avoid "the water shortage hassle." He said he was leaving for the beach today and would stay until the crisis is over.

Also contributing to this story were Washington Post staff writers Carla Hall, Janis Johnson and VernonThompson.