Australia is to become the first country to introduce a national water efficiency rating system on toilets, shower-heads, washing machines, dishwashers and taps.
The labels will begin to appear next year and will be similar to the energy rating system for whitegoods, which has been in place for almost two decades.
Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell told The Sunday Age the six-star water rating labels would be mandatory and estimated that they would help to slash water and energy bills by $600 million by 2021.
He said that over that period it would save more water than is in Sydney Harbour and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road.
The label will also explain how many litres of water is typically used by the appliance, fixture or fitting. A washing machine label, for example, will include the water consumption for both a cold and warm wash, as there is a small variation.
The ratings will be set by a committee made up of industry and government representatives.
The Government estimates a water efficient shower-head can save a household $710 over 10 years while a dual-flush toilet can cut bills by $510 over a decade.
"This scheme will be the first of its kind in the world," Senator Campbell said. "Consumers and business will be able to make informed decisions about which products will help them save water and it will encourage clever, water-efficient designs that will benefit consumers, the economy and the environment."
Senator Campbell said the "payback" period was also very quick. "The experts tell me that for a shower-head, for example, you pay a little bit more for it but depending on how many showers you have, you get your money back potentially within one year."
Senator Campbell said the new rules would apply to shower-heads, washing machines, toilets, urinals, dishwashers and some types of taps. There will be minimum water-efficiency standards for toilets. A voluntary label system will apply for flow-control devices.
The Government estimates it will help reduce domestic water use by 87,200 megalitres a year or 610,000 megalitres by 2021. Half the water saved is expected to come from washing machines, a quarter from showers and 22 per cent from toilets.
"A highly rated water-efficient washing machine uses 60 per cent less water than a water guzzler," Senator Campbell said. "An eight-minute shower using a regulated shower-head uses around 120 litres of water, whereas a water-efficient shower uses around 70 litres."
He claimed it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and by 2020 the amount of energy saved each year would be equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the nation's roads.
Australians are among the highest water users in the world with the average daily domestic water use about 350 litres a person. Senator Campbell urged people "to think about what they can do either as individuals or as part of their local community to conserve water".
He said a new, water-efficient dishwasher and toilet flush system had been put in his Perth home and he was planning to buy a new shower-head.
The labels are part of the $2 billion Australian water fund promised in the election which includes projects to save the Murray River and community grants for suburban and regional water-saving projects.
It is also part of the environment package negotiated by the Democrats in return for their support for the GST in 2000.