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Professor Denise Fort

Denise Fort

Emeritus Professor of Law
Research Professor

B.A. 1972, St. John's College, Santa Fe
J.D. 1975, Catholic University of America
Member of the New Mexico Bar


Contact Information


Denise Fort has an extensive background in environmental and natural resources law - about 25 years of practice, politics, reflecting and writing about policies, all animated by a belief that society must turn toward a more sustainable relationship with its environment. She believes that law plays a critical role in establishing the institutions that govern those relationships.

In 1995, she chaired the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, a presidential panel appointed to review the role of the federal government in western water issues. She has also been active in the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fort began her career as an environmental attorney with New Mexico Public Interest Research Group and Southwest Research and Information Center, then became a special assistant attorney general in the state's Taxation and Revenue Department. When she was 31, she was appointed Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. She moved on to head the state Environmental Improvement Division.

In 1987, Fort turned her focus to teaching, spending a year as a research associate at UNM's Institute of Public Policy and the UNM School of Law. She then served as executive director of Citizens for a Better Environment and as a consultant for the Natural Heritage Institute, both in California, before returning to New Mexico. In 1991, she became director of the Water Resources Administration Program at UNM and joined the law school faculty at that time.

While now retired, Professor Fort still teaches from time to time, and brings her extensive background experience to the classroom and to work with individual students. She focuses her teaching on environmental law and upper-level seminars on a broad range of natural resources topics.

Courses Previously Taught

  • Endangered Species
  • Environmental Law
  • Global Warming
  • International Environmental Law
  • Legislative and Administrative Processes (LAP)
  • Natural Resources Law
  • Western Water Policy

The Middle Rio Grande: A Scholar’s Guide to the Law, Science, Literature, and Citizens of the River

Instream Flows in New Mexico

Professor Fort Reviews Unquenchable, a book by Law Professor Robert Glennon


With Barry Nelson, Pipe Dreams, Water Supply and Pipeline Projects in the West, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012.

National Research Council, National Research Council, Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation’s Water Supply Through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater (2012)

Groundwater Policy in the Western United States, with Summer McKean, 47 Idaho Law Review (2011)

Too Hot to Handle, International Journal of Rural Law and Policy, University of New England (Australia) (2011)

Three entries in Encyclopedia of Water and Politics, CQ Press (2011)

Protecting New Mexico’s Waters: A Blueprint for the Future (2010) (draft)

Dairies in New Mexico: The Environmental Implications of a New Industry. State Bar of New Mexico, Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Section Newsletter, Summer 2009. (with Anthony Edwards)

The Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education, The Nature of Legal Education and Its Links to Water Management (2008)

Southwest Hydrology, Managed Underground Storage (2008)

NOAA, U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Decision-Support Experiments and Evaluations using Seasonal to Interannual Forecasts and Observational Data: A Focus on Water Resources (co-author) (2008)

Western Progress, A New Western Water Agenda, with Larry MacDonnell,, visited February 25, 2008; Revised version published in The Water Resport, February 15, 2008.

Prospects for Managed Underground Storage of Recoverable Water, National Academies Press (2008) (coauthor)

The Use of Environmental Taxes as a Water Management Strategy, in Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation, International and Comparative Perspectives, Oxford University Press (2007)

"Keep Your Money: Let the West Pay for its Own Water Projects," 27 Public Lands Law Review 15 (2006).

Opinion-Editorial, The Role of the Federal Government in the 21st Century: Time for a Clearly Defined and Constructive National Role, 7 Water Resources Impact 23 (January 2005)

Rick Lawford, Fort, Denise, Hartford, Holly, and Susanna Eden, eds., Water: Science, Policy and Management (American Geophysical Union (2003))

National Research Council (Committee to Assess the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Methods of Analysis and Peer Review for Water Resources Project Planning; Panel on Peer Review) Review Procedures for Water Resources Planning (2002).

Yale University School of Forestry, Bulletin 107, Human Population and Freshwater Resources: U.S. Cases and International Perspectives, "Case Study: Western Water" (2002)

Water Science and Technology Board (co-author), Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-First Century (2001)

"Prior Appropriation," entry in four volumes Water Sciences Encyclopedia (McMillan Science Library) (2003)

"Instream Flows in New Mexico", 7 Rivers 155 (peer reviewed journal) (2000)

Plum Creek Lecture Series, University of Montana, Our Aspirations for the West’s People and Rivers: An Anthem for the Turn of the Century, Missoula, Montana, March 7, 1999. Published in Water in the West, School of Forestry, University of Montana, 2000.

"Federalism and Western Water Policy in the United States," European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre, Working Group on Environmental Studies Newsletter (1999)

"The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: Watershed and Basin Management Receive the Attention of a New Generation," Journal of the American Water Resources Association (1999).

"Federal Water Policy for the West in the 21st Century," 25 Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation (1998). Co-authored with Donna Griffin.

"A Perspective from the Chair of the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission," Update, University Council on Water Resources, 110 Water Resources Update 23 (Winter 1998).

"Restoring the Rio Grande: A Case Study in Environmental Federalism," 28 Environmental Law 15 (1998).

"The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: Another Look at Western Water," 37 Natural Resources Journal 909 (1997).

Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission Issues Draft Report," 2 Western Law and Policy Reporter 1 (1997).

"The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: A New Mexico Chair Reports," Section on Natural Resources, Energy and Environment Newsletter, State Bar of New Mexico (1997).

"Key Committee of the 104th Congress Amended Tribes as States in its Revision of Clean Water Act. What Does It Presage for the 105th?" Section on Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment Newsletter, State Bar of New Mexico (1997).

"Researching Environmental Legislation," September/October Bar Journal, State Bar of New Mexico, co-authored with Mary Custy (1996).

"State and Tribal Water Quality Standards Under the Clean Water Act: A Case Study" 35 Natural Resources Journal 771 (1995).

"The Protection of Surface Water from Pollution," Green Fire Report, July/August 1995.

"Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995," 35 Natural Resources Journal 727 (1995).

"The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995: The 104th Congress has Spoken", Section on Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment Newsletter, State Bar of New Mexico (1995)

"Time for a State Environmental Policy Act," Green Fire Report, March/April 1995.

"Environmental Laws and Regulations," in Toxicology Risk Assessment, ed. Anna Fan, Ph.D. (New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.) 1995.

Ground Water Recharge Using Water of Impaired Quality, co-author (committee member, National Research Council) (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press) 1994.

"The Fragmented Executive," with A. Reed, in New Mexico Government, 3rd Ed., ed. P.L. Hain and C. Garcia (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press) 1994.

Managing Groundwater Quality and Quantity in the Western States: A Report to the Environmental Protection Agency, with Gabin & Pinnes, March 1993.

"Environmental Federalism and the Prevention of Groundwater Contamination," 27 Water Resources Research 2811-2817 (1991).

"Alternative Perspectives on Economic Development," in An Economic Development Strategy for New Mexico, ed. H.C. Jenkins-Smith and G.K. St. Clair (University of New Mexico Institute for Public Policy, 1988).

Book Reviews

Robert Glennon, Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and to Do About It (2009), Reviewed in Headwaters News, September 10, 2009.

Denise D. Fort on Recent Books on John Wesley Powell, 44 N.R.J. 319 (2004)

"Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters" by Robert Glennon, American Institute of Biological Sciences, BioScience (2003)

From Reclamation to Sustainability: Water, Agriculture, and the Environment in the American West, by Lawrence J. MacDonnell. 41 Natural Resources Journal 173 (2001)

The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest, by Wendy Nelson Espeland, New Mexico Historical Review (January, 2001)

America’s Water: Federal Roles and Responsibilities by Peter Rogers. 34 Natural Resources Journal 435 (1995).

Environmental Policy in the 1990s, 32 Natural Resources Journal 997 (1992).

Wildlife and the Public Interest: Nonprofit Organizations and Federal Wildlife Policy, 32 Foundation News 69 (1991).

Reforming the Forest Service, 29 Natural Resources Journal 621 (1989).

Published Conference Proceedings And Testimony

New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, Hard Choices: Adapting Policy and Management to Water Scarcity, "Environmental Perspective," Las Cruces, NM August 28, 2012.

American Bar Association, 30th Annual Water Law Conference, Policy Questions Concerning Tribal Water Marketing, February 2012, San Diego, CA.

2nd UNITAR/Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy: Strengthening Institutions to Address Climate Change and Advance a Green Economy, "The U.S. Failure to Control Greenhouse Gas Emissions," New Haven, Conn. September 2010

Groundwater Protection Council & U.S. Department of Energy, Water-Energy Sustainability Symposium, "The Law of Water and Energy" Salt Lake City, September 14, 2009.

Western Division American Fisheries Society, Organized Symposium and presented paper on "The Legal, Political, and Economic Challenges of Fish Protection in NM", Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 4, 2009.

Climate Change Legislation, New Mexico Forestry and Climate Change Workshop, November 20, 2008.

National Groundwater Association, Groundwater Mining and Water Law in the Western United States, Portland, OR. October 2008.

From Mountaintop to River Bottom: Restoring New Mexico’s Watersheds, Funding Your Watershed Project, Albuquerque, October 1, 2008.

The ABA Environment, Energy and Resources Law Summit: 16th Section Fall Meeting, Plenary Session: There Will Be Water-Or Will There? Phoenix, AZ, September 2008.

CLE International, New Mexico Water Law, Current Developments in Water Quality, Albuquerque, August 2008.

CLE International, New Mexico Water Law, The Fate of the Gila, Santa Fe, NM, August 2006.

Public Lands Law Review, University of Montana School of Law, "Where will we get our water in the future-A new era of federal involvement with western water?" Missoula, MT, October 7, 2005.

University of Leuven, Vermont Law School and Maastricht University, 6th Annual Global Conference on Environmental Taxation: Issues, Experiences, and Potential
The Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources Through Tax or Other Market-Based Measures-Challenges and Obstacles, Sept. 22-24 2005, Faculty Club and Convent de Chievres, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.

International Water Law Research Institute, University of Dundee, "Institutions for Sustainability," Good Water Governance for People and Nature: Water Role for Law, Institutions, Science and Finance, Dundee, Scotland, August 29-September 2, 2004.

New Mexico Water Law: Law, Policy and Beyond, CLE International, August 17, 2004, "The Economics of Water in New Mexico: Water Use and State and Federal Funding," Santa Fe, NM.

New Mexico Water Law: Water Rights, Quality, and Policy, "Federal Water Developments", CLE International, August 19, 2003, Santa Fe, NM.

University of Colorado, Natural Resources Law Center, "Climate Change and the Rio Grande: Throwing Gasoline on a Fire," presentation and concluding panel, June 11, 2003.

Aspen Global Climate Change Institute, presentation and summary panel, June 5-10, 2003.

American Water Resources Association, Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 2002.

Utton Transboundary Resources Center, Interstate Waters: Crossing Borders for Sustainable Solutions, "Environmental Perspectives", Snowbird, Utah, Oct. 11, 2002.

Universidad Internacional Menendez Palayo, Technicas de gestion de los recursos hidraulicos en el siglo XXI. Nuevos objectivos y actitudes. " Objectivos y actitudes en la planifacion y gestion de Recursos Hidricos en Estados Unidos", Oct. 3, 2001, Alicante, Spain.

New Mexico Water Law: Water Rights, Quality, and Policy, "The New Regime in Washington", CLE International, August 10, 2001, Santa Fe, NM, with Daniel Dietzel ('03).

Two Decades of Water Law and Policy Reform, " Creating Better Governance," University of Colorado School of Law, Natural Resources Law Center, Boulder, CO, June 13-15, 2001.

Human Population and Freshwater Workshop, "Case Study: Western Water," Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Co-organized by the Center for Environment and Population (CEP); National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and Population Resource Center, March 22-23, 2001.

Law of the Rio Grande Conference, "Can the Federal Mandates of the Endangered Species Act be Reconciled with State Water Rights?" CLE International, Albuquerque, Feb. 1, 2001.

Law of the Rio Grande Conference, Program Co-Chair and Presentor, "Protection of Endangered Species: Invitation to Restoration," CLE International, Albuquerque, NM, March 16, 17, 2000.


New Mexico State Bar, Animal Law Section, Continuing Legal Education Seminar: Wildlife Law, "Climate Change and Endangered Species," September 13, 2013.

World Water Week, University Partnerships on Transboundary Resources, Rappoteur, September 4, 2013, Stockholm, Sweden.

Journeys Santa Fe, Water Policy in New Mexico with Peter White, Esq., Santa Fe, NM, May 5, 2013.

New Mexico Solar Energy Association Solar Fiesta, "Adios, Coal" Santa Fe, NM, April 28, 2013.

Future of the City' Symposium at the School of Architecture + Planning, "Three Questions for Interdisciplinary Research," Albuquerque, NM, April 12, 2013.

37th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop "Emerging Critical Water Issues," Boulder, CO, July 15, 2012.

University Council on Water Resources, Climate Change And Water In New Mexico: Governance Structures For A New Era, "Managing Water, Energy, & Food in an Uncertain World: Current Perspectives on Water Governance and Institutions," Santa Fe, NM July 17-19, 2012.

Comparative Groundwater Law & Policy Program, Stanford University and the United States Studies Center (University of Sydney), "Mitigating Surface Water Effects," Sydney, AU, June 21-22, 2012.

American Water Resources Association, "Importing Water: How to Think about Energy and Sustainability" and "Water Efficiency and Instream Flows: Making the Watershed Link" Albuquerque, NM, November 7-8, 2011.

Stanford University and the United States Studies Center (University of Sydney) "How Do States Ensure Water Policy Recognizes Surface Water-Groundwater Links" and "Intersections between Emerging Science/Technologies and Groundwater Law and Policy," Palo Alto, CA October 17-19, 2011.

Utton Center, University of New Mexico, Moderated Conference on Institutional Aspects of Restoration for the Bureau of Reclamation, Albuquerque, NM, September 14-15, 2011.

University of Idaho School of Law, Groundwater in the West, Symposium on Conjunctive Management of Groundwater, Boise Idaho, April 15, 2011.

University of Arizona School of Law, Lecture to Economics, Law, Environmental and Governance Workshop, Tucson, AZ. Feb 18, 2011

University of New England, "Climate Change and Agricultural Water Use" Colloquium on Water Law: Through the Lens of Conflict, Armidale, Australia, January 5-6, 2011

New Mexico Water Dialogue, Panel on Economic Stress: Impacts on Growth, Water and Land Use, Albuquerque, Jan 13, 2011.

Keynote Speaker, Audubon Society of New Mexico, Women in Conservation Dinner, Santa Fe, October 14, 2010.

Water and the Baptismal Life- national gathering of clergy, others, led by Professor Larry Rasmussen (emeritus), Union Theological, "Water Use and Values" Ghost Ranch, NM. June 25, 2010.

River Network River Rally, Snowbird Utah, two presentations: "New Horizons in Western Water Issues" and "Federal Support for the Waters of the Intermountain West," May 22, 2010.

UNM School of Law, Natural Resources Journal Symposium, The Water-Energy Conundrum, "Water Conservation and Energy Efficiency" Albuquerque, NM, February 12, 2010.

New Mexico Water Dialogue, 16th Annual Statewide Meeting, Panel: Facing Conflicting Priorities and Other Challenges, Albuquerque, NM, January 14, 2010.

Ecological Society of America, Water: Ecosystem Services, Drought and Environmental Justice Keynote address, Maintaining Freshwater Aquatic Ecosystems in a Changed Climate: The Fundamental Changes We Must Make, Nov 9-12, 2009, Atlanta Georgia.

Netroots, "New Mexico: A Case Study," Austin, TX, July 2008.

National Research Council and National Groundwater Association, Water Quantity and Managed Underground Storage, Washington, D.C., March 19, 2008.

American Water Resources Association, 2007 Annual Water Resources Conference, "How and Why to Revive the Santa Fe River," Albuquerque, Nov. 14, 2007.

American Water Resources Association, 2007 Annual Water Resources Conference, "Linking Climate and Water Resource Management Knowledge Networks" Albuquerque, Nov. 13, 2007.

Policy Issues in Western Water, Western Progress, Boulder, CO, Oct. 23, 2007

Participant, National Academy of Sciences Planning Meeting: Adaptation to Climate Change, Washington, D.C., Oct. 25, 2007

Colorado Ground Water Management Policy-Focus on Legal and Institutional Opportunities for Aquifer Recharge and Storage, Session I, Use of Aquifers for Storage in Other States, Sept. 28, 2007

Oxford Roundtable, "A Snail’s Pace" Global Warming, Oxford, G.B. August 2007.

State Bar of New Mexico, CLE, Global Warming, Planned and moderated presentations. Albuquerque, NM. December 2006.

Natural Resources Law Center, Annual Conference, Climate Change and Agriculture. Boulder, CO., June 2006

Citizens for Global Solutions, World Water Needs, Santa Fe, NM, October 2005.

H2O Conference, Water Privatization, Santa Fe, NM, June 2005.

NM State Bar and the Utton Center, New Mexico and the West: Facing our Water Reality, "Federal and State Responses to Drought: The Bottom Line" Albuquerque, NM, May, 20, 2005.

Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities: Growth and Development in the Land of Enchantment: Past, Present, and Future, "Every Last Drop: Why Water Matters," March 9, 2005.

NRDC, et al., Hispanics and the Environment: Issues, Public Opinion and Politics, "Hispanics and Environmental Justice Issues," Albuquerque, April 27, 2004.

CLE International Rio Grande Superconference, "The Silvery Minnow," Albuquerque, Feb. 5-6, 2004.

New Mexico Appellate Courts, Water Briefing, Taos, NM, Nov. 7, 2003.

Co-convener, Governor’s Conference on the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow, Santa Fe, NM, Oct. 3, 2003.

Center for the Southwest, Heating Up, Panelist, Global Warming/Climate Change: Considering What to Do, Albuquerque, N.M., April 12, 2003.

American Meterological Society, Presenter and Moderator, Impacts of Water Variability: Benefits and Challenges, "The Uneasy Relationship Between Science and Law: Protecting Endangered Species," Long Beach, CA, Feb. 10, 2003.

World Wildlife Federation et al., Everglades Conference, Rio Grande and the Everglades: Rescuing American Icons, Delray Beach, FL, Jan. 11, 2003.

Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, H2O University: Basics and Beyond Water Seminar, "Silvery Minnow and Related Endangered Species Issues", Dec. 13, 2002.

Western Water Alliance, Western Water Policy and Issues Convening, San Francisco, CA., Analysis of Post-Election Landscape, Nov. 22, 2002.

Adapting for Sustainability: Can western water law and policy and the management of water resources be ecologically and economically sustainable? Water and the New West: Economics, Politics and Nature; Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism; Annenberg School for Communications; University of Southern California; Los Angeles, CA; June 25-29, 2002

American Planning Association, Annual Meeting, Bettman Symposium, Water and Growth, April 14, 2002, Chicago, IL.

American Society of Civil Engineers, World Water & Environmental Resources Congress 2001, Plenary Session, "Sustainable Water Resources, Dam Removal & Restoration, Western U.S. Perspective" Orlando, FL, May 23, 2001.

Interstate Council on Water Policy, 2000 Annual Meeting, Is there a Need for a National Water Resources Policy ? Chicago, IL, Sept. 19, 2000.

National Academy of Public Administration, 2000 Academy Spring Meeting, Transformation of Governance, Management of Water Resources, Albuquerque, N.M., June 1, 2000.

American Geophysical Union, 2000 Spring Meeting, Federal Water Policy for the West, Washington, D.C., May 31, 2000.

Race Judicata, Coloring the Ivory Tower, Environmental Justice, Moderator, University of New Mexico School of Law, March 6, 2000.

New Mexico Common Cause, Campaign Finance Reform, Moderator, Albuquerque, NM, Jan. 26, 2000.

State Bar of New Mexico, Annual Convention, Environmental Law Update, Oct. 22, 1999.

American Ground Water Trust, Tucson, AZ, keynote speech, The National Interest in Ground Water, Sept. 1, 1999.

University of Colorado, Boulder, Natural Resources Law Center, Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: An Agenda for Action, June 8, 1999. (Panel with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt)

Western Environmental Grantmakers, Aqua es Vida, San Francisco, CA, April 28, 1999.

China-U.S. Water Resources Workshop, "The Rio Grande Basin", Tucson, AZ, April 18, 1999.

Wallace Stegner Center, Law, Policy, and the River, University of Utah College of Law, April 16, 1999.

World Humanity Action Trust, "Water and Sustainability", San Francisco, CA, January 19, 1999.

Switzer Foundation, Annual Meeting, Keynote, September 27, 1999.

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