Measure C, which could have led to a fee for recharging the area's groundwater, was struck down by a 2-to-1 margin by voters Tuesday night.
With all precincts responding, 67.6 percent of voters had cast their ballots against Measure C.
"How could that be?" said Ed Steffani, manager of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, when told of the measure's defeat. "I just don't understand."
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The North San Joaquin district sponsored the initiative.
Steffani said he didn't know what would come next for the district, but didn't rule out the idea of trying to take another measure before the voters.
An opponent of Measure C was pleased with the outcome.
"It appears the people have won," said district board member Bryan Pilkington, who led the campaign against Measure C.
Pilkington also e-mailed a statement to the News-Sentinel in which he thanked fellow opponents of Measure C and urged the district to respect the wishes of voters.
"The people of the entire water district have won the fight against taxation without representation," he said in a statement.
Board members who supported Measure C said the money they hoped to eventually collect would be used to repair infrastructure and build delivery systems so the district could make the most of its 20,000-acre-foot allocation of wet-year water.
The district serves the city of Lodi generally east of Ham Lane, as well as Victor, Acampo, Clements and Lockeford. It was founded in 1948 and oversees 150,000 acres of agricultural land in and around Lodi. The district works to conserve stream and Mokelumne River water for both agricultural and domestic uses.
Supporters of Measure C argued that it was part of a long-term solution to replenish the area's groundwater basin. Proponents also contended that its failure could be catastrophic for area water rights. Measure C was endorsed by the Lodi City Council, the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, the Groundwater Banking Authority, and the San Joaquin Farm Bureau.
Opponents of the measure argued that it helped only a minority of growers, and the district may not even accomplish what it wanted to do. Critics also argued that the board is not to be trusted, and that approval of Measure C was equal to giving the district a blank check. "I'm happy about it," said Acampo farmer Jackson Morehead of Measure C's defeat, in a telephone call Tuesday night. "The projects (the district) wanted to pursue were a pipe dream, and the scare tactics they used were a hoax."
While Morehead agrees that there are diminishing groundwater levels in the area's basin, he said he does not know if it is natural or manmade, and doesn't agree with the district's plans for dealing with it.
"(The district) provides a service, but they need to be more forthright," he said.
Although Steffani has warned that the failure of Measure C could lead to the end of the district, Morehead said the district is too resilient to fold.
"I don't think they will quit or give up," he said.
Kathryn Siddle cast a "yes" vote for Measure C at St. Paul's Lutheran Church on Pleasant Avenue on Tuesday evening. She voted "yes" because she wanted to help keep local control of groundwater decisions, she said.
"(Measure C) is something that can be done," she said.
Greg Kowalski voted against Measure C on Tuesday evening because he didn't want to be subjected to a fee. While he didn't express a mistrust of the district, Kowalski said he didn't want to vote in favor of the measure because he felt it wouldn't make a difference in restoring the groundwater basin.
He also said he didn't think the district deserved more money.
"Any time a group asks for more money, chances are they are not using it correctly," he said outside St. Paul's Lutheran Church, which served as a polling place.