A Treaty lawyer says the Crown's approach to recognising Māori water rights is no better than its handling of foreshore and seabed claims.
Calls for tangata whenua interests in water to be acknowledged in law are at a standstill.
Claimants want the Waitangi Tribunal to push ahead with the second stage of its inquiry into fresh water and geothermal resources but the Crown is attempting to delay the case, arguing it is still developing policy on water and is working with iwi and hapū.
Lawyer Janet Mason, who acts for Te Rarawa and Ngāti Rangitihi, said the implications ran deep.
"From the claimants' point of view, it's actually the Crown's actions and conduct which is wasting a lot of taxpayer resource.
"They continue to stall these discussions. They continue to fail to recognise that there is a legitimate interest there. And we liken this to what they have done with Foreshore and Seabed [Act]," she said.
"It's been 10-odd years since that Ngāti Apa Court of Appeal decision and the resources that the Crown has spent in two lots of legislation and the ongoing cost to the claimants and to the legal aid system by the Crown just refusing to acknowledge that there are proprietary rights, is just putting everyone in an impossible situation."
The highly controversial 2004 Foreshore and Seabed law was replaced with the Marine and Coastal Area Act.
Under that legislation, whānau, hapū and iwi can seek recognition and protection of beaches and waterlines in their rohe.
The Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson, is due to make his first decision on those claims in the next month or so.