updated 10/23/2008 5:50:11 PM ET 2008-10-23T21:50:11

Four Southeastern cities could save millions of gallons of water a day by repairing leaks, replacing fixtures and raising water prices, according to a report released Wednesday by an advocacy group to protect rivers.

Conservation is a less expensive and more practical solution to the region's water problems than building dams to create new reservoirs, American Rivers concluded in its report, "Hidden Reservoir."

"We're sitting on top of a forgotten water supply. It's in our kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms; in our yards and gardens," said Gerrit Jobis, Southeast regional director for the group.

The report estimates conservation could save up to 210 million gallons of water a day in Atlanta; 47 million gallons a day in Charlotte, N.C.; 20 million gallons a day in Raleigh, N.C.; and 27 million gallons a day in Columbia.

The Southeast has spent much of this decade in a drought, and water shortages have crept across the region. A recent World Wildlife Fund study found that global warming will bring higher temperatures and more extreme droughts, likely ending the region's traditionally easy and inexpensive access to water.

The report said building dams and new reservoirs should be the last resort to solving water problems because they're expensive and lose more water to evaporation. Officials in Georgia recently suspended plans to spend $40 million on new reservoirs because of a budget crisis caused by the economic downturn.

"Dams are expensive, destructive and shortsighted. Water efficiency, on the other hand, is cost-effective, proven and timely," said John Ramsburgh, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club of South Carolina.

Instead, the report details nine ways the region can save water, like requiring separate water meters for large landscaping projects like office parks and charging more for that water. The report estimates water use would decline 35 percent if new, water-efficient fixtures were put into older buildings and homes.

"It's not very expensive. and it's an easy way to stretch the water supply," Jobis said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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