Demand for water in South Carolina rose nearly 1,000 percent in the last 40 years — three times more than surrounding states. The National Wildlife Federation has sounded a conservation alarm with that finding.

The state is thought to be in relatively good shape compared with its neighbors — abundant with rivers and lakes and not so industrialized. But water use rose far more than the 60 percent increase in population between 1960 and 2000, said Amanda Staudt, federation climate scientist.

"This increase reflects in part that South Carolina water use was quite low in 1960," she conceded. But "the biggest contributor to this increase is the use of water for thermoelectric power generation, which accounts for 80 percent of the freshwater usage in the state."

The federation released the report Thursday, joining a series of environmental groups calling for state control of who withdraws how much water from its rivers and lakes, as well steps to reduce electricity consumption and shift to clean energy alternatives — to save water as well as combat climate warming.

An attempt to permit large-scale water withdrawals is now stalled in the state Legislature by lobbyists for both environmental and manufacturing interests.

Lewis Gossett, S.C. Manufacturers Alliance president, on Thursday had not seen the study. But he said the key is how much water is available, not how much you use.

"We can see the need for a water plan, but it needs to be science-based. That's where our disagreement is. Our great concern is, don't throw out the baby with the bath water — don't destroy economic growth with an overly restrictive plan," he said.

Increasing demand for water in the rapidly developing Southeast, exacerbated by recent droughts, is beginning to cause water shortages, pushing the region into Western-style legal "water wars."

The report joins a number of studies raising an alarm that the situation will continue to worsen as water supplies diminish to factors such as saltwater intrusion and drier conditions spurred by climate warming.

South Carolina is suing North Carolina over proposed water withdrawals out of its Catawba basin. The lawsuit is now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court; it's in the early stage of collecting depositions and other information.

The Catawba flows from that state and joins South Carolina rivers, eventually providing nearly half the water that flows into the Marion-Moultrie lakes, the source of drinking water for most of the Lowcountry.