After a contentious start to the Merced Irrigation District growing season, elections for the water district's board of directors were just as tense -- with three of the five seats up for grabs.
At the Sun-Star's deadline, all three incumbents were trailing, with about 60 percent of the precincts reporting.
Scott Koehn, a regional representative with Balchem Corp., had 1,904 votes, or about 60 percent of the counted votes, in Division 2, which includes south Merced and El Nido. Trailing was incumbent Gino Pedretti, with 1,256 votes.
"I'm looking forward to contributing and bringing more balance and leadership," Koehn said. "MID has very big issues facing it in the coming years, and I look forward to serving the rate payers and growers."
Over recent weeks, candidates who were not incumbents made a lot of noise about the fairness of a curtailment on water deliveries proposed by the board in the runup to the season.
Late-season storms helped avoid limits on water, but that didn't stop challengers from using the issue as a political football.
Pedretti strongly contested the proposed curtailment, and Koehn blasted him for the position.
At the same time, Billy Pimentel and Kevin Gonzalves attacked their respective opponents, incumbents Wil Hunter and Suzy Hultgren, for supporting the curtailment.
The tactics may have worked.
Preliminary results showed Gonzalves, a Winton almond farmer, leading with 1,062 votes, or 53.39 percent of the vote, in Division 4, which includes the cities of Livingston, Cressey, Winton and a small part of Atwater. Hultgren had 915 votes.
Meanwhile, dairyman Billy Pimentel, a former board member, was ahead with 4,143 of the tallied votes, or 61.44 percent, in the contest for Division 5, which encompasses most of Atwater and the area southwest of the city. Hunter trailed with 2,571 votes, as of the Sun-Star's deadline.
Nonincumbent winners take office in January, according to MID officials.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.