Koehn salutes the good fight to protect
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
October 5, 2017
Scott Koehn has served on the Merced Irrigation District
Board of Directors during the past five years — a
time of extraordinary debate about the future of our local
water supply in a state struggling with drought cycles and
a surging population.
Last December, when fed-up farmers decided to drive their
tractors onto Main Street in Merced to protest a possible
state “water grab,” Koehn was among the local
representatives who spoke up at a big meeting inside the
“We are reasonable,” he told state officials,
urging them to reconsider the concerns of the ag industry,
and valley residents.
But after months of discourse, it has become painfully obvious
the state water board is not interested in negotiating.
The recent release of their Substitute Environmental Document
is proof state water authorities are fixated on obtaining
an additional 40 percent or more of the water flows on the
Merced River in the name of fish and Delta health.
Extraordinary times, some will say, call for extraordinary
Today Koehn, the vice president of the MID board, says he
wants to stand tall in a new offensive in the ongoing water
battle, all while helping to strengthen the finances of
the district and grow its services.
He is running for re-election to keep his Division 2 seat
in the Nov. 7 election. He faces challenger David Cole,
a special education teacher, for the seat that represents
the communities of El Nido, south Merced, downtown Merced,
and parts of McSwain.
With a fresh perspective, Koehn was first elected to the
board in 2012, beating longtime MID board director Gino
Pedretti of El Nido. Koehn was the only non-union backed
candidate to win in the big general election that year.
He quickly became known as someone who was well-spoken and
able to articulate MIDs initiatives and goals in a clear
and thoughtful manner. He was appointed as the chairman
of the finance and administration committee, and has served
in that capacity for the past four years.
Koehn says his overall goals continue to include what he
wanted from the start: the protection of water rights from
anybody — internally or externally — trying
to grab MID water in an unfair way.
“There is a constant pressure to get at, suppress
and weaken MID’s water rights from outside the district,
and sometimes within the district,” he told the Times
in a recent interview. “We proposed the SAFE plan
to improve habitat, increase flows to some degree, and make
sure we time those flows to have the biggest impact. We
want to be good stewards. … But the state is not interested
in the SAFE plan. They want us to have less water all the
time. With their plan, instead of running out of water we
had in storage, let’s say, in three years of a drought,
now we are out of water in a year and a half, or two years.
You just can’t hold as much back. … We will
always have droughts, but now the impact is seen in a much
shorter cycle. … We are asking the community, stakeholders,
and all of the district to get behind us for the legal fight
that remains ahead.”
Koehn is a lifelong Merced County resident who grew up in
the McSwain area. He graduated from Cal Poly with an ag
business degree, and went on to run his own cattle company,
and later represent national ag companies and their products
for use in the Central Valley. Before MID, he served as
a trustee and board president of the McSwain Union Elementary
School District. He currently is the vice president of sales
and marketing for the Fermented Nutrition Corporation based
in Wisconsin. And he’s a father, with a 10-year-old
fifth grader at a local school.
“I bring a perspective from my professional experiences,”
he said. “I’m not a large grower or farmer.
I have been in the agro-business industry for many years
now. I bring to the board the perspective of interacting
with different stakeholders and influencers at many different
levels. I feel I bring a very balanced approach to the board.
I look at things overall — like how we allocate water
during a drought, how we take care of finances, how we set
reserves, and how will those things ultimately impact the
financial viability of the district …. Everybody wants
this and that, but if the district is not viable form a
financial perspective, nothing happens. You have to take
care of the district.”
The board director sees part of his job as advocating for
MID in high-level talks in places like San Francisco and
“I sat with Standard & Poor’s executives
and was part of the presentation team to advocate for MID’s
credit upgrade. … Lowering the cost of debt translates
to more affordable water, and more affordable power and
In the same breath, however, Koehn praises the work of MID’s
financial team and staff, and leaders such as General Manager
John Sweigard and Finance Director Brian Stubbert. “They
do a phenomenal job in making sure the finances are where
they should be.”
During Koehn's term, MID took over operations (and revenue)
for the Exchequer hydroelectric project that had been controlled
by PG&E for years.
Readers may remember a controversial MID power project to
build transmission lines south of the city to improve capacity.
That was in Koehn’s district, but he’s proud
to say they ended up modifying the plan in a cost-effective
way to eliminate the lines some neighbors did not want in
their backyards. They are still improving the southeast
Merced substation, and accomplishing the objectives of the
Reliable affordable power is a key component to the growth
of MID, according to Koehn. “As the UC continues to
grow, and as service industries to support that growth,
and other businesses throughout the area continue to grow,
particularly in South Merced, we want to position MID to
be able to serve them with affordable power. And more energy
alternatives will make Merced more attractive to businesses
who are looking to invest in this area.”
With regard to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
(SIGMA), Koehn says the legislation is needed, but “implementation
is the key.”
“I’m generally an anti-regulation guy, but you
can’t keep putting more straws into the same cup,”
he said. “Nobody sees this, but MID is involved with
local committees and groups that will be in charge of putting
the plan together to stay in control of our local groundwater
and comply with these regulations … We have to make
sure MID has a prominent and strong seat at that table.
Our view is that nobody understands water in this area like
Finally, Koehn admits there was a lot of friction when he
started on MID’s Board of Directors five years ago.
He said there was a certain element on the board that butted
heads with management. There was a lot of personal mudslinging,
and it’s all on the public record. He did say, however,
the board went about its business to address important issues,
and solid decisions continue to be made.
“With the complexity of issues that lie in front of
us — and the scale of the issues that lie in front
of us — we absolutely need good people on the board,”
he told the Times. “People of good character, but
we need people who are very well informed about the workings
of the district, and about the larger issues that are in
front of us and will shape the future of this community