The Waitangi Tribunal has drawn a comparison between new Maori claims over freshwater and the ground-breaking Muriwhenua claim 25 years ago.
The tribunal has granted an urgent hearing of claims by the New Zealand Maori Council and ten hapu involving lakes, rivers, springs, aquifers and geothermal resources.
The claimants argue Maori water rights are about to be irreversibly eroded by two pending government actions.
The first is the sale of shares in state-owned hydro power companies and the second is the plan to reform the management and allocation of freshwater.
The claimants say these moves will create new property rights, ranging from the shareholdings of private investors in the power companies to tradeable water use rights.
The tribunal says it is being called on to consider urgently the transfer of state assets that might be essential for the redress of Treaty claims, as it was in 1986 during the Muriwhenua fishing claim.
Its urgent report at that time led to legislation protecting Crown land for future Treaty settlements.
The tribunal says it has granted the request for urgency because the question of whether Maori have prior rights to water must be determined before new property interests are created.