The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Friday placed 14 northern counties - with seven million residents - under a "drought warning" because of "deteriorating water supply conditions" in reservoirs. The affected counties are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren. In South Jersey, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem Counties have been under a lesser "drought watch," which calls for voluntary water conservation, since early October. Friday's measure, which followed a hearing Thursday in Essex County, gives the department the legal authority to direct the redistribution of water to areas most in need. Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the department, said these measures are intended to forestall the need for emergency mandatory water restrictions. It is the first drought warning the state has issued since November 2001. That warning escalated to "emergency" status as conditions worsened, lasting into late 2002 or early 2003 in different parts of the state. DEP Commissioner Robert Martin said in a statement that some reservoirs serving the state's most densely populated areas are at less than half their capacity. He urged that residences and business moderate their water consumption in order to avert emergency restrictions. The only counties not under warning or watch are Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland, which have received near or above-normal rainfall in recent months, the DEP said.