Photo: Reed Benson

Reed Benson

Professor of Law

  • Don L. & Mabel F. Dickason Endowed Chair in Law


  • B.S. Iowa State University
  • J.D. University of Michigan
  • Member of Colorado Bar (inactive status)

Contact Information

 Ph.: 505-277-1119
 Fax: 505-277-1597
 Office: 3241


Reed Benson joined the UNM law faculty in July 2008, contributing a broad background in environmental work, including five years as executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon. In addition to teaching courses on water law, natural resources, and administrative law, he chairs the Natural Resources and Environmental Law Program.

Prior to coming to UNM, he spent six years on the law faculty of the University of Wyoming, where he taught a variety of courses and served as faculty adviser to the Wyoming Law Review. He previously worked in private law practice in Colorado, as a staff attorney for a regional conservation group, and as an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. He was a Fulbright Scholar in 2015, serving as Visiting Chair in Water and the Environment at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada.

Benson's writing focuses on water law and environmental issues facing the West. He has written extensively on the federal dimensions of water management issues, including the operation of federal water projects and the application of the Endangered Species Act to water. He is co-author on the 7th edition of the Water Resource Management casebook from Foundation Press.


Administrative Law

The Administrative Law course reviews administrative law practice and procedure, primarily at the federal level. The course begins with materials on the nature and function of administrative agencies. The course then reviews agency rulemaking power, emphasizing federal and state Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requirements. The course then considers the adjudicative powers of administrative agencies, including an agency's obligation to afford persons due process of law. Finally, the course examines judicial review of administrative agency decisions.

Federal Law of Water Resources

Federal Law of Water Resources deals with various federal laws and programs regarding water allocation and management, addressing these topics in more detail than is possible in the basic Water Law course. Areas of emphasis include federal water projects, reserved water rights for federal and tribal lands, interstate water allocation, and the effect of federal environmental laws on water management and use. Federalism in the development and control of water resources is a recurring theme of the course.

Introduction to Natural Resources and Environmental Law

Introduction to Natural Resources and Environmental Law is a 2-credit course designed to introduce students to natural resources law (e.g. water rights, public lands) and environmental law (e.g. pollution control, toxics). The course examines the nature of environmental and natural resource issues, identifies policy options for addressing them, and offers a “sampler” of relevant laws. Class sessions involve considerable discussion of legal and policy questions relating to natural resources and the environment. The course is open to all but is primarily geared towards first-year students, who may benefit from exposure to a field that is heavily statutory and administrative.

Natural Resources

This course surveys the legal and institutional framework governing the use and management of natural resources, primarily in the West. We will focus largely on uses of federal public lands, such as grazing, logging, mining, energy development, and recreation. We will also address other resources, such as wildlife and state lands. The course is appropriate for students interested in concentrating in this field, as well as those who only seek an overview of natural resources law. Most readings will come from Klein, Cheever & Birdsong's Natural Resources Law, 2nd edition (Aspen).

Natural Resources Journal

Course Descriptions

Required Book: TBA
The research, writing, and editing seminar is limited to second year students who have successfully written onto the Natural Resources Journal. The goals of the seminar are to consider editing and writing articles dealing with a wide spectrum of natural resource and environmental problems. The seminar emphasizes interdisciplinary writing for a broad audience of natural resource policy makers. Students will work towards selecting, researching, and writing about a natural resources topic of their own choosing. At the same time the seminar will help to train the members to critically view their own work and the work of other contributors to the Natural Resources Journal. Finally, the seminar will instruct new NRJ members in the process of producing the four issues of the Journal published each year and as NRJ staff members they will be assigned cite checking duties for articles currently being prepared for publication.

Natural Resources Journal II - Spring

The most important goals of the seminar are to teach editing of scholarly writing and, at the same time, deal with a wide spectrum of natural resources/environmental problems. It will emphasize interdisciplinary writing for an audience of natural resources policy makers. The course will help train the members to critically view their own work, learn to work in teams, appreciate the importance of deadlines and organizational techniques, learn to communicate with authors about their work, learn about publication processes and be sensitive to the concerns of journal subscribers.

Natural Resources Journal III (Editors) - Fall

Research, writing, and publication, as well as editing and processing materials for publication.

Natural Resources Journal IV - Spring

Research, writing, and publication, as well as editing and processing materials for publication.

Water Law

Water Law deals with the laws and institutions governing water allocation and use, with an emphasis on water rights.  The primary focus is on the Western United States, particularly the prior appropriation doctrine and state laws dealing with groundwater use.  The course also deals with interstate water disputes and the water rights of federal and tribal lands.



Water Resource Management  (7th ed. 2014) (co-authored with A. Dan Tarlock, James N. Corbridge Dr., David H. Getches, and Sarah F. Bates).
Available at: UNM-DR


A Contentious Mission: Water Supply and Corps of Engineers Reservoirs, 32 DUKE ENV'T L. & POL'Y F. 247 (2022).
Available at: UNM-DR

Ongoing Action, Ongoing Issues: Trying Again to Free Federal Dams from the Endangered Species Act, 49.11 ENVTL L. REP. (November 2019)
Available at: SSRN

Can a State's Water Rights Be Damned? Environmental Flows and Federal Dams in the Supreme Court, 8 MICH. J. ENVTL. ADMIN. L. (2019).
Available at: UNM-DR

Keeping Power in Charge: Federal Hydropower and the Downstream Environment, 39 PUB. LAND & RESOURCES L. REV. 24 (2018).
Available at: UNM-DR

Reviewing Reservoir Operations: Can Federal Water Projects Adapt to Change?, 42 COLUM. J. ENVTL. L. 353 (2017).
Available at: UNM-DR

Protecting River Flows for Fun and Profit: Colorado's Unique Water Rights for Whitewater Parks, 42 ECOLOGY L.Q. 753 (2015).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Greenback, the Humpback, and the Silverback: How a Third Wave of Federal Water Policy Could Benefit the West, 93 OR. L. REV. 685 (2014)
Available at: UNM-DR

Environmental Issues in the Allocation and Management of Western Interstate Rivers, 24 INDIAN INT'L & COMP. L. REV. 183 (2014).
Available at: UNM-DR

Avoiding Jeopardy, Without the Questions: Recovery Implementation Plans for Endangered Species in Western River Basins, 2 MICH. J. ENVTL. ADMIN. L. 473 (2013).
Available at: UNM-DR

Federal Water Law and the 'Double Whammy': How the Bureau of Reclamation can Help the West Adapt to Drought and Climate Change, 39 ECOLOGY L.Q. 1049 (2012).
Available at: UNM-DR

Public Funding Programs for Environmental Water Acquisitions: Origins, Purposes, and Revenue Sources, 42 ENVTL. L. REV. 265 (2012).
Available at: UNM-DR

Alive but Irrelevant: The Prior Appropriation Doctrine in Today’s Western Water Law, 83 U. COLO. L. REV. 675 (2012).
Available at: UNM-DR

Environmental Review of Western Water Project Operations: Where NEPA has not Applied, Will it now Protect Farmers from Fish?, 29 UCLA  J. OF ENVTL. L. & POL'Y 269 (2011).
 Available at: UNM-DR

Public on Paper: The Failure of Law to Protect Public Water Uses in the Western United States, 1 INT'L J. RURAL L. & POL'Y 1 (2011).
Available at: UNM-DR

New Adventures of the Old Bureau: Modern-Day Reclamation Statutes and Congress’ Unfinished Environmental Business, 48 HARV. J. ON LEGIS. 137 (2011).
Available at: UNM-DR

A Bright Idea from the Black Canyon: Federal Judicial Review of Reserved Water Right Settlements, 13 U. DENV. WATER L. REV. 229 (2009).
Available at: UNM-DR

Dams, Duties, and Discretion: Bureau of Reclamation Water Project Operations and the Endangered Species Act, 33 COLUM. J. ENVTL. L. 1 (2008).
Available at: UNM-DR

Rivers to Live By: Can Western Water Law Help Communities Embrace Their Streams?, 27 J. LAND RESOURCES & ENVTL. L. 1 (2007).
Available at: UNM-DR

A Few Ironies of Western Water Law, 6 WYO. L. REV. 331 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

Adequate Progress, or Rivers Left Behind? Developments in Colorado and Wyoming Instream Flow Laws Since 2000, 36 ENVTL. L. 1283 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

Deflating the Deference Myth: National Interests vs. State Authority under Federal Laws Affecting Water Use, 2006 UTAH L. REV. 241 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

'The Supreme Court of Science' Speaks on Water Rights: The National Academy of Sciences Columbia River Report and its Water Policy Implications, 35 ENVTL. L. 85 (2005).
Available at: UNM-DR

Pollution Without Solution: Flow Impairment Problems Under Clean Water Act Section 303, 24 STAN. ENVTL. L.J. 199 (2005).
Available at: UNM-DR

So Much Conflict, Yet So Much in Common: Considering the similarities between western water law and the Endangered Species Act, 44 NAT. RESOURCES J. 29 (2004).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Interior Department's Water 2025: Blueprint for Balance, or Just Better Business as Usual?, 33 ENVTL. L. REP. 10837 (2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Giving Suckers (and Salmon) an Even Break: Klamath Basin Water and the Endangered Species Act, 15 TUL. ENVTL. L.J. 197 (2002).
Available at: UNM-DR

Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Securing Water for Federal and Tribal Lands in the West, 30 ENVTL. L. REP. 11056 (2000).
Available at: UNM-DR

Popular Press

Argument analysis: On first day of new term, Supreme Court seems skeptical of Texas’ arguments in interstate water dispute with New Mexico, SCOTUSblog (October 5, 2020)
Available at: UNM-DR

Case preview: In newest chapter in long-running water dispute, court will hear first-ever challenge to ruling by interstate river master, SCOTUSblog (September 29, 2020).
Available at: UNM-DR


Don L. & Mabel F. Dickason Endowed Chair in Law

Keleher & McLeod Professor