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Weaver takes over as Idaho water department director

By Bill Schaefer


As of Sept. 1, Mat Weaver is the new director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources. He was appointed by Gov. Brad Little to succeed Gary Spackman, who retired after leading the IDWR for the past 14 years.

Weaver, 49, began working in the IDWR in 2008 as a staff engineer to support water rights and water distribution. During the past 15 years he has spent time working in a variety of capacities within the department, working his way up to deputy director for the past decade.

He has spent time on dam safety, on a special assignment from Spackman on Eastern Snake Plain delivery calls, on aquifer recharge work, and as the deputy director he oversaw the compliance bureaus and technical service groups.

Developing a consensus of agreement among Idaho’s groundwater users and surface water users along with balancing municipal demands would seemingly call for someone with the Biblical patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon, traits that Weaver might find useful in his new position at the IDWR.

As the old saying attributed to Mark Twain goes, in the arid West, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Weaver credited Spackman with his advances within the IDWR.

“From very early on at the department, the director … gave me a lot of elevated authority and responsibility,” he said. “He promoted me to deputy director and I worked directly under him for 10 years and he has had just a profound impact on my career.”

Spackman served two and a half years as interim director prior to his appointment on July 11, 2012, by then-Gov. Butch Otter as permanent director.

“Maybe one of the reasons I was considered for the position of director is I have a lot of breadth at the department,” Weaver said. “I’ve worked in almost every business or group that we have at the department.”

One state official who has worked and collaborated on state water policy with both Spackman and Weaver over the years is Lt. Governor Scott Bedke, a rancher and farmer from Oakley. Prior to his current position, Bedke was the Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives from 2012 to 2022.

“He brings a great background, good experience at the department,” Bedke said of Weaver. “He’s been Gary’s number two for a while now. I think he’s uniquely prepared to be the director.”

Bedke said Spackman did a good job as IDWR director and has always had the best interests of Idaho at the forefront of his service.

“Being the director at the Department of Water Resources in Idaho and I’m assuming in any of the western states, in the arid West, is a very challenging job, because they’re part judge, they’re part administrator, they’re a large part mediator, because allocating scarce resources has always been difficult,” he said.

Weaver received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Montana State University in his hometown of Bozeman. He went on to earn a Master of Physical Science degree in hydrology from Boise State University.

Weaver grew up in Bozeman, spending his summers working with both his grandfathers on their separate farms.

It was during this time working on the farms helping repair irrigation pumps and moving irrigation pipe that he developed an understanding of the importance of water in the landscape of the northwest.

“Both of those endeavors were focused on water, getting water to the right place at the right time … and so there was an interest there and so I think I just sort of gravitated towards that,” Weaver said, explaining how he came to eventually studying hydrologic sciences that would lead to his career with the IDWR.

Weaver said his paternal grandfather was an important mentor and strong influence on his career path.

“I’m fourth generation engineer, my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father, all on the paternal side are all engineers and in my grandfather’s mind there was no question that I would be an engineer,” he said.

“As far back as I can remember this was the expectation. Now he hoped I would be an electrical engineer and that didn’t work but he was still satisfied that I was a civil engineer,” Weaver said. “He was a real strong influence on me, always saying, ‘This is what you’re capable of.’ Certainly, I had both him and my father to look to as examples of professional engineers who made a life of it and to achieve some hard things.”

The role of the IDWR is to oversee and administer Idaho’s water resources in such a way as to maximize its benefits for all users – agricultural, industrial, recreational and the general population – in a time of increasing demand in a state that is one of the fastest growing in the country.

Weaver cited the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer as a prime example of the ever-increasing demands being placed on Idaho’s water due to both its increasing population growth and constantly expanding agricultural markets.

“It is the flagship example of a declining resource in Idaho but we’ve got a lot of them, especially in the southern two-thirds of the state,” he said.

“One of our critical issues right now is we have a growing population, we have a growing economic base, but we have finite or diminishing water resources,” Weaver said, “and so we’ve got to confront that and there are ways we can deal with that. Conjunctive management is one such way. Adopting management plans that are broad in their support by the water user communities is another way. And certainly, building out (aquifer) recharge programs and projects, and cloud seeding, those are other ways that we can augment the water supply to address these issues.”

Conjunctive management is a policy that recognizes that all waters of the state – surface water and groundwater, also known as an aquifer – are inter-connected, not separate entities, and must be managed as one, unified water resource.

Moving the IDWR forward will require a change of emphasis, Weaver said.

“In the past the department has been very focused on receiving applications on water use and processing them and approving them and I think looking forward much more of the focus is going to be on administering those water rights as opposed to dispensing those water rights,” he said.

One of the long-term goals he would like to see completed during his tenure as director is adjudication of Idaho’s stream basins.

“I think adjudication is another real focus of the department,” he said. “The SRBA (Snake River Basin Adjudication) was a grand achievement, something that no other western state has achieved, but we are still going forward with our northern Idaho adjudication and our adjudication in the Bear (River basin) so that we will get the entire state adjudicated, hopefully, by the end of my career. I think that’s a very realistic goal. We’ll become the first western state to adjudicate all of their stream basins.”