In its latest report The Waitangi Tribunal has called a drought a drought.

The dry signs were all around us - fewer kids going through kohanga reo at the same time as native speakers are dying off, proportions of Maori speaking te reo dropping from census to census despite actual numbers increasing.

But somehow we were all at the oasis feeling good, bedazzled by important initiatives such as Maori Television and the once-a-year feel good Maori Language Week which has gained in popularity and public prominence over the last decade.

That warm toasty feeling was reinforced by Te Puni Kokiri, under Parekura Horomia, which released a shameful survey that's been criticised as not only being statistically unreliable - but much worse, giving the impression that things were better than they actually were.

It all added up so that, for those outside the language community, New Zealand's other official language seemed to be doing pretty well.

Commentator Dr Rangi Mataamua warned last month that at its current rate of use te reo Maori could die out by 2050. It was a misconception that te reo is experiencing a resurgence, he said.

The tribunal's WAI 262 report says actually, we were living off past Maori-led glories - the kohanga reo movement's early successes have not carried on. That's partly because, through the 1990s, governments failed to plan for teachers, choking off demand.

It could not have been more blunt. We are in a crisis. The language renaissance has faltered. However, for all its dire warnings the provisional report should be taken as intended: as a kick to get things moving again.

It's a generational and timely reminder that this business of language retention is difficult, but it's a case where both Maori and the Crown have equal responsibilities.

For now, the Government says it will wait until the full WAI 262 report is released and its own value for money review is completed before commenting on the tribunal's recommendations.

The breathing space will allow it to mull over whether Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission, should have more powers to affect change.

Legislative changes to the 1987 Maori Language Act will be needed.

Whatever plan it comes up with it's clear something needs to change - the do-nothing option which is available to the Crown as recommendations are non-binding - clearly can't be one.