A regional councillor has hit out at what he describes as "complete misinformation" in a series of advertisements claiming New Zealand's fresh water is being surrendered to iwi.

However, Dover Samuels said the government had contributed to the confusion with its messages about the ownership of water.

The ads, headlined 'Are you ready to give up water?', appeared in Northland newspapers last week, claiming the government was giving iwi control of New Zealand's fresh water. It was doing so sneakily and without public knowledge via the country's regional councils, the ad continued.

The ads are published by the Whangarei-based New Zealand Centre for Political Research, run by former Act MP Muriel Newman.

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Mr Samuels, a Northland regional councillor and Maori Affairs Minister in the last Labour government, said the ad's inference that regional councils had given iwi the power to control water was "complete misinformation".

Regional councils had been delegated the authority to manage water but they had never owned water, so had no power to give it away.

Mr Samuels said public statements by Environment Minister Nick Smith that nobody owned water had added to the confusion.

"The question I ask the government is: Who does own the water? In my view the Crown owns it on behalf of all New Zealanders. And if the government doesn't own it, they should legislate and make it very clear that it is vested in the Crown but owned by all New Zealanders.

"If you don't do that, what you get is misinformation and negotiations the public knows nothing about," he said.

By saying no one owned water, the government had given iwi leaders a chance to argue that it belonged to Maori. Mr Samuels also questioned how the government could delegate management of something it didn't own.

Iwi claims to fresh water arose after the part-privatisation of hydroelectric power stations in 2013. Iwi saw that as the government selling water rights to benefit a few shareholders, many of them offshore, when they had previously benefited all New Zealanders.

Government ministers met the powerful Iwi Leaders Forum at the Turner Centre in Kerikeri on February 5 this year in a bid to hammer out a deal.