Skip to main content
Adjunct Faculty

Melissa Scanlan

Adjunct Faculty

JD, University of California-Berkeley, 1999

MS, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California-Berkeley, 1999

BA, World Politics, Catholic University of America, 1993

Curriculum Vitae

Melissa Scanlan


Melissa K. Scanlan is the Lynde B. Uihlein Endowed Chair in Water Policy and the Director of the Center for Water Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. She is a Professor in the School of Freshwater Sciences and affiliated faculty at UW-Madison Law School.

Previously, she was a visiting professor at Boston College Law School, and a Professor of Law at Vermont Law School. She served as Associate Dean of the Environmental Law Program and Director of the Environmental Law Center at Vermont Law School, which consistently earned the U.S. News & World Report top ranking in environmental law under her leadership.  She has directed the Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship, a robust international forum for scholars to give and receive feedback on works in progress.

The U.S. State Department awarded her a Fulbright Senior Scholar position in Spain in 2019 to pursue research about Spanish cooperatives that are sustainability leaders. Her forthcoming book, Prosperity and the Fossil Free Economy (Yale University Press, summer 2021) compares Spanish and U.S. cooperatives to reveal insights about legal design for the triple bottom line. She has written and edited books, book chapters, and law review articles, on a variety of environmental and new economy law topics.  State Supreme Court opinions have cited her law review articles and conservation groups have republished them in shorter forms.

Scanlan is the founder of a variety of enterprises in the social economy, all of which continue today. Infused with clear vision and longevity, she raised millions of dollars to capitalize these enterprises and designed their governance documents, establishing the mission, purpose, and day to day direction. She brings a deep understanding of starting and stewarding enterprises to her research, teaching, and service.  She was the co-lead consultant in launching the Center for Water Policy, which she started directing in 2021. She was the co-founder, with Gus Speth, of the New Economy Law Center. She co-founded Washington Heights Community Garden in Milwaukee. Immediately out of law school, she received a competitive Equal Justice Works Fellowship (formerly NAPIL) and an Echoing Green Fellowship to found and direct Midwest Environmental Advocates, Wisconsin's first non-profit environmental law center.

Prior to becoming a law professor, she represented non-profit, community groups and tribal government clients in high impact lawsuits, and shaped public policy in areas ranging from the Great Lakes Compact and water supply issues to enforcement and implementation of the Clean Water Act and the public trust doctrine. During that time, her peers selected her as a Wisconsin Super Lawyers' Rising Star (2006, 2007 and 2008).

Professor Scanlan brings an interdisciplinary approach to her work. She holds a BA in World Politics from the Catholic University of America, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.  She earned a Juris Doctorate and Master of Science in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California, Berkeley.

Outside her scholarly work, she loves kayaking, keeping honeybees, raising children, and building community.




Presenter, "Cooperatives and advancing environmental sustainability," U.S.-E.U. Environmental Law Colloquium, Center for American Studies, Rome, Italy, May 30, 2019.

Tilburg University, Tilburg Law and Economics Center, Speaker Series, Netherlands, May 9, 2018, Law and Policy for a New Economy: Sustainable, Just, and Democratic.

Plenary speaker presentation, "The Role of the Courts in Guarding Against Privatization of Important Public Environmental Resources," IUCNAEL Colloquium: The Environment In Court, Oslo, Norway, June 20-26, 2016.

"The Role of the Courts in Guarding Against Privatization of Important Public Environmental Resources," George Washington University Law School J.B. & Maurice C. Shapiro Symposium on the Public Trust Doctrine in the 21st Century, March 15-16, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

University of Florida, Levin College of Law, Guest Professor, Environmental Capstone Colloquium, Gainesville, FL, February 1, 2018, Public Rights in Water as a Paradigm of Protection.

"Trails Take Flight: Connecting People, Places, and Possibilities,” at the International Trails Symposium 2017, Dayton, OH, May 8, 2017.

​Panelist, "The Role of the Courts in Guarding Against Privatization of Important Public Environmental Resources," 7th Annual Colloquium on Environmental Scholarship, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT, September 24,2016.

Co-host and moderator, "Law for the New Economy," University of California Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, May 23 - 24, 2016.

World Water Congress XV, Edinburgh, Scotland, Selected Presentation, May 25-29, 2015, Virtual Water in Agricultural Production.

First Annual Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators, Arizona State Law School, Tempe, AZ, Selected Panelist, May 8, 2015, Climate Change and Law for the New Economy.

University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, MI, Invited Speaker, April 2, 2015, Blueprint for the Great Lakes Trail.​​

Water Privatization on the Developing Natural Resources panel, Vermont Law School, Eco-Equity: The 2014 Solutions Conference, Invited Panelist, March 28, 2014.​

Key Challenges to Lawyering for the Sustainable City, ​Northeastern University School of Law, Lawyering for the Sustainable City, Invited Panelist, March 21, 2014.​

Putting Environmental Justice at the Center of Environmental Law, ​Berkeley Law School, The Berkeley Exchange: Celebrating Berkeley’s Contribution to Environmental Law Scholarship, Invited Panelist, February 7, 2014.​

Social Entrepreneurs: Be the Change You Want to See, ​Middlebury College, Howard E. Woodin Colloquium Series, Invited Speaker, December 5, 2013.​

Adaptive Management and Water Quality Trading: Experimenting with Unlikely Partners​, University of Kansas, Kansas Law Review Symposium, Waters of the United States—Adapting Law for Degradation and Drought, Invited Panelist, November 1, 2013.​

Implementing the Public Trust Doctrine with the Great Lakes Trail​, ​Vermont Law School Freshwater Working Group Panel Discussion, Invited Speaker, October 18, 2013.​

Public Access to Beaches, ​Vermont Law School Water Confab, Invited Speaker, June 7, 2013.​

Virtual Water and Food Exports in the Great Lakes Region, ​DePaul University College of Law, DePaul Law Review Symposium, Invited Speaker, March 1, 2013.​

Marginalized Monitoring: Adaptively Managing Urban Stormwater, ​Mercer University Law School, Virtual Environmental Law Guest Speaker Series, February 11, 2013.​

"Technology and New Ways to Seek Compliance," ​Berkeley Law, George Washington University Law School, and Environmental Protection Agency Workshop, Next Generation Environmental Compliance, Invited Speaker, December 11-12, 2012.​

Environmental Justice Issues in Urban Land Redevelopment, ​University of Minnesota School of Law, Environmental Law Capstone: Brownfields Redevelopment and Litigation, Guest Lecturer, February 1, 2010.​

"The Promises and Pitfalls of Carbon Trading" (with Toby J. Carroll), in Business: Friend or Foe of the Environment?, United Nations Environment Program and International Federation of Environmental Journalists Media Workshop, Raffles City Convention Center, Singapore, April 21, 2008.​

Privatization and the Great Lakes Compact, ​Michigan State University College of Law & Institute for Trade in the Americas Conference on The Great Lakes Water Basin, Invited Speaker, December 2, 2006.​

Access to Great Lakes Water Under the Proposed 2001 Agreements, ​University of Toledo College of Law Conference, Invited Speaker, November 18, 2005.​

Environmental Theory and Practice: Oil and Water?, University of Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Course on Green Politics, Guest Lecturer, September 28, 2005.​

The State of Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine and the Job Creation Act, University of Wisconsin Arrowhead Lecture Series, Invited Lecturer, October 6, 2004.​

Access to Wisconsin Water: The Public Trust Doctrine – Past, Present, and Future, ​Waters of Wisconsin Forum, Invited Speaker, October 22, 2002.​

Awards & Accomplishments

Awards, Honors or Grants

​Wisconsin Super Lawyers Rising Star, 2006, 2007, 2008

​Mesa Refuge Writing Fellowship, June 2005

​Echoing Green Fellowship, 1999 - 2003

​National Association of Public Interest Law (now Equal Justice Works) Fellowship, 1999 – 2001

U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Spain, University of Alicante, 2019


​Board member, Midwest Environmental Advocates, 2010 – present

​State Bar of Wisconsin, 1999 – present

​US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, 2003 – present

​Board member, Environmental Law Section of the Wisconsin Bar Association, 2010 – 2013

​US District Court of the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin, 2000 – present