The Māori Council has moved to reassure people that while tāngata whenua would have rights to water under a new proposal, they would not prevail over the interests of the general public.
Council's co-chair Sir Eddie Taihakurei Durie said the council was keen to get public feedback on its proposal to create a national water policy and a commission to allocate water rights.
"People can't get too fixated on Māori proprietary rights and fighting each other as to the extent to which one person's rights might prevail over another person's.
"I believe we have a very critical situation when it comes to looking at water world-wide. Most water regimes are polluted and they have germs and toxins from chemicals and industrial development which is commonplace."
Sir Eddie warned that most water systems around the globe were polluted and it was only a matter of time before New Zealand heads in the same direction, and New Zealanders must work together in order to preserve it.
He said the Maori Council wanted to create a water policy that ensured the public's interest in the resource was not superseded by commercial ones.
"We are very keen to affirm that all people have rights and acknowledge that Māori people do have a 'senior right' - to use a term that is sometimes used in the United States, but it must not prevail over the general public good.
"We can make provisions that do acknowledge the Māori interest while ensuring that water is available for the future generations of all people.
"We must come up with something that all people can live with and provides a way forward for managing things in the future which ensures the public interest is not relegated to second coming behind the commercial interest."