Can Utahns be persuaded to turn off their faucets and use less water?

That's not just an academic question. Only a few days ago Hill Air Force Base imposed further restrictions on outside watering, while Layton City juggled its permissible watering hours to ration culinary supplies. For its part, Salt Lake City is asking major water users to alter their outside watering schedules away from peak demand times.What's more, the question seems bound to become increasingly urgent as the drought wears on in Utah and across the nation.

In some parts of the country, residents are experiencing the 14th consecutive year of drought. Though last year was the hottest year on record, the 1988 drought already is considered to be the worst of the century.

No wonder some experts believe that water conservation could become to the 1980's what energy conservation was to the late 1970's. Indeed, the impetus for conservation could persist long after the drought is over, particularly in congested areas where the population is increasing faster than the supply of water.

As parts of Utah consider various conservation measures in response to the current drought, a look at what other communities around the country are doing could be helpful. As The Christian Science Monitor notes, those measures vary widely. For example:

- Some of the toughest restrictions have been adopted by San Francisco, since the Bay Area is among the hardest hit by the drought. In an effort to reduce consumption by 25 percent, San Francisco has imposed rationing and increased fees 15 percent in an effort to discourage most outdoor watering.

- Los Angeles is ordering that new buildings come equipped with a new generation of miserly shower heads, toilets, and faucets that use less water but force it out with more pressure. The 250 biggest water users also are being required to undergo audits to find out where savings can be made.

- In Napierville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, "sprinkler patrols" roam the streets giving out fines to violators of an ordinance that allows watering only during certain hours.

- Though it faces no current shortage, New York City has started a new conservation campaign in hopes of forestalling the need for new reservoirs. The campaign is based largely on educating residents on how to save water.

How much can an education campaign accomplish? Potentially, plenty! Just stopping leaks can be a reasonably good source of saving. A slow drip all day long can waste from 15 to 40 gallons a day, or up to 2,500 gallons a year. It pays to fix or replace leaky faucets. Also, don't forget "gray water." Dishwashing water, bath water, and laundry water can be put to other uses during a dry spell.

Just as it wasn't easy to persuade Americans to conserve fuel during the energy crisis, it won't be easy to get them to use less water during the drought - particularly since water costs considerably less than gas and oil. But if fee hikes are what it takes to stretch water supplies further during the drought, so be it.