Photo: Denise Fort

Denise Fort

  • Research Professor

Professor Emerita


  • 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


Book & Book Chapters

[Three entries], Encyclopedia of Water Politics and Policy (Danvar and Burch eds., 2011).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Changing Context, Decision-Support Experiments and Evaluations using Seasonal to Inter-annual Forecasts and Observational Data: A Focus on Water Resources (Waple et al eds., 2008) (co-authored).
Available at: UNM-DR

Prospects for Managed Underground Storage of Recoverable Water (2008) (co-author with National Research Council).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Use of Environmental Taxes as a Water Management Strategy, Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation, International and Comparative Perspectives (2007).
Available at: UNM-DR

Water: Science, Policy and Management: Challenges and Opportunities (2003) (co-edited with Rick Lawford, Holly Hartford & Susanna Eden).
Available at: UNM-DR

Prior Appropriation, Water Sciences Encyclopedia (2003).

Review Procedures for Water Resources Project Planning (2002) (co-authored with Mitchell et al.).
Available at: UNM-DR & National Academies Press

Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-First Century(2001) (co-authored).
Available at: National Academies Press

The Fragmented Executive, New Mexico Government (P.L. Hain & C. Garcia eds., 3rd ed. 1994) (co-authored with A. Reed).
Available at: UNM-DR

Alternative Perspectives on Economic Development, An Economic Development Strategy for New Mexico (H.C. Jenkins-Smith and G.K. St. Clair eds., UNM Institute for Public Policy 1998).
Available at: Law Library

"Environmental Laws and Regulations," Toxicology Risk Assessment (Anna Fan ed., 1995).

Ground Water Recharge Using Water of Impaired Quality (1994) (co-authored with National Research Council).
Available at: Law Library


Groundwater Policy in the Western United States, 47 IDAHO L. REV. (2011) (co-authored with Summer McKean).
Available at: UNM-DR

Too Hot to Handle, INT'L J. RURAL L. & POL'Y (2011).
Available at: UNM-DR

Protecting New Mexico’s Waters: A Blueprint for the Future, WHITE PAPER (March 5, 2010).
Available at: UNM-DR

Keep Your Money: Let the West Pay for its Own Water Projects, 27 PUBLIC LANDS L. REV. 15 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

Improving New Mexico's Water Management, WHITE PAPER (July 5, 2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Water and Population in the American West, Human Population and Freshwater Resources: U.S. Cases and International Perspectives (2002).
Available at: UNM-DR

Instream Flows in New Mexico, 7 RIVERS 155 (2000).
Available at: UNM-DR

Restoring the Rio Grande: A Case Study in Environmental Federalism, 28 ENVTL. L. REV. 15 (1998).

The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: Another Look at Western Water, 37 NAT. RESOURCES J. 909 (1997).
Available at: NRJ

State and Tribal Water Quality Standards Under the Clean Water Act: A Case Study, 35 NAT. RESOURCES J. 771 (1995).
Available at: NRJ

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995: Where Will the New Federalism Take Environmental Policy, 35 NAT. RESOURCES J. 727 (1995).
Available at: NRJ


Pipe Dreams: Water Supply and Pipeline Projects in the West (Natural Resources Defense Council, June 2012) (co-authored with Barry Nelson).
Available at: NRDC

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

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

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

Managing Groundwater Quality and Quantity in the Western States: A Report to the Environmental Protection Agency (March 1993) (co-authored with Vickie L. Gabin & Ellen Pinnes).

Bar & Trade Publications

Dairies in New Mexico: The Environmental Implications of a New Industry, NATURAL RESOURCES ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL LAW SECTION NEWSLETTER (STATE BAR OF NEW MEXICO) (Summer 2009) (co-authored with Anthony Edwards).
Available at: UNM-DR

ASR From A Legal Perspective, 2008 SW. HYDROLOGY 22 (2008).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Nature of Legal Education and Its Links to Water Management, 139 J. OF CONTEMPORARY WATER RESEARCH & EDUCATION 30 (2008).
Available at: UNM-DR

A New Western Water Agenda, Western Progress (February 25, 2008) & The Water Report (February 15, 2008) (co-authored with Larry MacDonnell).

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).

Instream Flows in New Mexico, 7 S.E.L. & ASSOC. 155 (2000).
Available at: UNM-DR

Our Aspirations for the West’s People and Rivers: An Anthem for the Turn of the Century, WATER IN THE WEST (2000).

The Western Water Commission: Watershed Management Receives the Attention of a New Generation, 35 J. AM. WATER RESOURCES ASSOCIATIONS 223 (1999).
Available at: Wiley

Federal Water Policy for the West in the 21st Century, 25 ROCKY MOUNTAIN MINERAL LAW FOUNDATION (1998) (co-authored with Donna Griffin).
Available at: RMMLF

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

The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission: A New Mexico Chair Reports, N.M. BAR NAT. RESOURCES ENERGY & ENVTL. NEWSLETTER (1997).

Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission Issues Draft Report, 2 W. L. & POL'Y REP. 1 (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?, N.M. BAR NAT. RESOURCES ENERGY & ENVTL. NEWSLETTER (1997).

Researching Environmental Legislation, N.M. BAR J. (September/October 1996) (co-authored with Mary Custy).

House Passess Unbalanced Clean Water Act, GREEN FIRE REPORT (July/August 1995).
Available at: UNM-DR

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995: The 104th Congress has Spoken, N.M. BAR NAT. RESOURCES  ENERGY & ENVTL. NEWSLETTER (1995).

Its Time for a State Environmental Policy Act, GREEN FIRE REPORT (March/April 1995).
Available at: UNM-DR

Environmental Federalism and the Prevention of Groundwater Contamination, 27 WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH 2811-2817 (1991).
Available at: UNM-DR

Book Reviews

Robert Glennon's Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It (2009), HEADWATERS NEWS (September 10, 2009).

Denise D. Fort on Recent Books on John Wesley Powell, 44 NAT. RESOURCES J. 319 (2004).
Available at: NRJ

Until the Well Runs Dry (Robert Glennon's Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters), 53 BIOSCIENCE 601 (June 2003).

Lawrence J. MacDonnell's From Reclamation to Sustainability: Water, Agriculture, and the Environment in the American West, 41 NAT. RESOURCES J. 173 (2001).
Available at: NRJ

Wendy Nelson Espeland's The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest, N.M. HISTORICAL REV. (January, 2001).

Peter Rogers' America’s Water: Federal Roles and Responsibilities, 34 NAT. RESOURCES J. 435 (1995).
Available at: NRJ

Vig & Kraft's Environmental Policy in the 1990s, 32 NAT. RESOURCES J. 997 (1992).
Available at: NRJ

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

Randall O'Toole's Reforming the Forest Service, 29 NAT. RESOURCES J. 621 (1989).
Available at: NRJ



Protecting Our Natural Environment, New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute Las Cruces, NM (August 28, 2012).
Available at: NM WRRI

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

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

The Legal Framework: Water Allocation, Quality and Energy (CLE short course), Water-Energy Sustainability Symposium (September 14, 2009).
Agenda available at: GWPC

The Legal, Political, and Economic Challenges of Fish Protection in NM, Western Division American Fisheries Society (May 4, 2009) (presentor and organizer).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where will we get our water in the future: A new era of federal involvement with western water?, PUBLIC LANDS L. REV. (October 7, 2005).

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

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).

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

Federal Water Developments, New Mexico Water Law: Law, Policy and Beyond (CLE International Santa Fe) (August 19, 2003).

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

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

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

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

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

The New Regime in Washington, New Mexico Water Law: Water Rights, Quality, and Policy, CLE International (Santa Fe) (August 10, 2001) (2003) (with Daniel Dietzel).

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

Case Study: Western Water, Human Population and Freshwater Workshop (Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies) (March 22-23, 2001).

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

Protection of Endangered Species: Invitation to Restoration, Law of the Rio Grande Conference (CLE International Albuquerque) (March 16, 17, 2000) (program co-chair and presenter).


Climate Change and Endangered Species, New Mexico State Bar, Animal Law Section, Continuing Legal Education Seminar: Wildlife Law (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", (December 13, 2002).

Western Water Alliance, Western Water Policy and Issues Convening, San Francisco, CA., Analysis of Post-Election Landscape (November 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, Chicago, IL (April 14, 2002).

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 (September 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, (January 26, 2000).

State Bar of New Mexico, Annual Convention, Environmental Law Update, (October 22, 1999).

American Ground Water Trust, Tucson, AZ, keynote speech, The National Interest in Ground Water, (September 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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