On March 5, after several years of arid conditions, Delaware's governor Ruth Ann Minner issued a drought warning to implement voluntary water conservation efforts limiting non-essential water use.

Since July 2001, residents of the 15-county Atlanta, GA area have lived with restrictions that prohibit all outdoor water use from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Odd-even, address-based outdoor use is permitted during other hours. The rest of the state is enduring odd-even, address-based outdoor water use all day.

Heading into it's sixth year of drought, Montana is suffering sparse mountain snow cover, a missing snow blanket on the plains, reservoirs and streams are low, and much needed spring snow isn't in the forecast.

Severe to extreme drought conditions have plagued much of the Eastern Seaboard and portions of eight Western states for years and now El Nino is warming the Pacific Ocean.

While many of the nation's residents are already living a life of water conservation, others are likely to join them if El Nino really heats up.

El Nino is a weather system of warmer Pacific Ocean water temperatures that can trigger bizarre weather conditions ranging from unusual precipitation levels to exceptionally dry times.

On March 7, The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said signs are evident for this El Nino to fester for more than a year, possibly spreading more warmer than normal weather over a wide swath of the West and Midwest and wetter than normal conditions over the South.

Last week, NOAA confirmed the likelihood of prolonged drought conditions.

"The drought in some areas will worsen as we move into the warmer months when demand for water is greatest. Nearly four years of little rain and snow in some places has left many areas with deep water deficits," said Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., NOAA's administrator.

"Changing weather patterns may offer a glimmer of hope, but we don't see the water levels returning to normal anytime soon," he added.

Water conservation is always a good idea. Now, in many regions, it's crucial.

Here's a list of basic water saving techniques to use every day, in or out of a drought, along with any mandatory restrictions imposed by your region.

Install water-saving devices

Showers, faucets and toilets are among the greatest water wasters, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Install shower heads with a flow rate of three gallons or less per minute. They can save 75 gallons of water during a normal 10-minute shower.

Low-flow aerators for the kitchen and bathroom can reduce the the standard five gallons-a-minute flow from faucets to just two gallons a minute. That's about 60 gallons a month for a typical family of four, FEMA says.

Ultra-low-flush toilets take a little getting used to, but they do work when used as instructed. The can save about to 42 gallons a day. Some water districts' rebates on the toilets' purchase price, makes buying them virtually free of cost. If you don't get a low-water use toilet, you can buy a water dam for the toilet tank or make one with a plastic bottle filled with water and weighted with stones. The dams replace water, thereby reducing its use. Some water utilities also offer similar toilet bags as another free option. Do not use bricks or other permeable objects that can deteriorate into debris that damages the plumbing system.

Hot water recirculation systems, at under $1,000, might at first appear expensive, but after examining the savings vs. operating costs over time you'll realize a savings on both water and power.

Always, keep shower heads, faucets, and toilet valves in good working condition and free of leaks that waste water.

Change your water use habits

Use the washing machine, dish washer and garbage disposal only when fully loaded.

When brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing your hands, instead of allowing the tap water to run, use a cup or bowl, and run the tap just to rinse the toothbrush, shaver or your hands.

Use a pan when washing vegetables or rinsing dishes in the kitchen instead of running water constantly.

Take shallow water baths instead of showers, especially if you don't have low-flow shower heads installed.

Cut down on water use outside

Approximately 65 percent of residential water is used outside the home, according to the American Water Works Association.

Give priority to shrubs that are more expensive and harder to replace than grass and annual plants. During rationing water them with "gray water" saved from bathing, dish washing and clothes washing, if permitted by your local health department. Re-landscape with drought tolerant grass, shrub and flower species. For non-potable water needs like watering plants and washing the car, be prepared to collect water in tubs and other containers if it does rain.

Water plants in the evening when there's less chance of evaporation. Use drip irrigation that soaks directly into the soil. Sprinklers spray water making it more susceptible to evaporation.

Also wash motor vehicles from a bucket rather than from the water hose, use pool and hot tub or sauna covers to cut down on evaporation. Minimize diving, vigorous play and other activities that will splash water out of the pool or hot tub.

The American Water Works Association's WaterWiser Web site offers a host of additional water conservation techniques.

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