Professor Denise Fort Named Director of Utton Center

July 1, 2011

Professor Denise Fort

Professor Denise Fort became director of the Utton Transboundary Resources Center on July 1. She will split her time between teaching at the University of New Mexico School of Law and leading the center.

Fort began her career as an environmental attorney with the New Mexico Public Interest Research Group and Southwest Research and Information Center, and 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, and then California's Citizens for a Better Environment and UNM's Masters in Water Resources Administration program, before joining the law school faculty in the early 1990s.

In 1995, Fort 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. "I am honored to continue the legacy of Professor Al Utton, whose vision set this center on its path in the mid-1980s to provide a multidisciplinary resource for all interests in the natural resources field," said Fort.

She replaces Susan Kelly (`81), who stepped down from the position, but will continue working with the center on several projects on a part-time basis. Currently, Kelly and Fort are working together on a new project funded by the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). They are assisted by Summer McKean (`11). The project will bring together a group of academics, BOR representatives, tribal interests, water users and NGOs to assess the governance structure of large-scale restoration efforts led by the BOR. The goal of the project will be to develop recommendations for improvements to institutional arrangements for future restoration activities.

"Governance has become a cutting-edge issue, as the social questions underlying environmental policy become more evident," said Fort. "This project is part of a long-term interest of mine in how citizens, different levels of government and interested parties approach environmental restoration."

Goings-on at the Center
Recent Utton Center events have included an April seminar titled, "Integrating Land Use and Water Planning in New Mexico." Kelly presented the findings from this project to the New Mexico Interim Committee on Water and Natural Resources on June 30. Water Matters, a publication updated annually for state lawmakers on current water issues and projects around that state, is now available online. 

Through the Joe Stell Ombudsman Program, Darcy Bushnell (`89) continues to provide services to claimants, the Office of the State Engineer and the courts in the Aamodt, San Juan and Lower Rio Grande adjudications primarily through help lines, and mailings. She conducts public meetings, consults on public meeting design, trains adjudication participants and is developing a web-based water portal for adjudication participants with the UNM Science and Engineering Centennial Library. She has obtained a small grant from the McCune Foundation and has applied for a grant with Institute of Museums and Libraries to support the water portal project.

Bushnell also is preparing a white paper with a new national group interested in water issues in Indian Country and supervising Zach Carpenter (`13) and Greg Chakalian (`13) in writing a water rights handbook for small water systems in New Mexico.

Throughout the summer, Amy DePree, a graduate student, will be working as an intern at the Utton Center. She is helping to compile scholarship and research on transboundary natural resource issues between the United States and Mexico.

"I am proud of all the center has accomplished in bringing together the many varied interests of New Mexico's water community through our initiatives," said Kelly.