Dry times



Growth may be slow in resort towns like Aspen, but the entire state of Arizona, whose motto is "God enriches," is burdened by more than 463,000 vacant housing units -- about one vacancy for every six homes. "That's enough housing to accommodate an entire decade's worth of population growth -- if the population were growing," says economist Marshall Vest at the University of Arizona. Azstarnet.com, the website of the Arizona Daily Star, predicts that stagnation is bound to continue as long as people abandon their houses when mortgages start costing more than their places are worth, and as long as illegal immigrants get chased away by punitive laws. Meanwhile, liberals in southern Arizona want to break away from the Republican dominance of Phoenix and form the nation's 51st state -- Baja Arizona. Unfortunately for the idea's supporters, "all the stars would have to align for this to happen," admits Paul Eckerstrom, the former Democratic county chairman who launched the campaign.


Hank Vogler is a rancher who says he can't afford $500-an-hour lawyers to go head-to-head against the powerful Southern Nevada Water Authority. This is the regional agency that for decades has worked its way through bureaucratic hoops to get permission to pipe groundwater from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas, where it would supply as many as 400,000 homes. So the 62-year-old rancher has adopted the most outrageous strategy he can imagine: He's asking for a month's time at the next hearing on the issue to call 9,213 witnesses -- "all of them of the four-legged variety," reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In other words, he wants people to hear from his cattle, sheep and horses "because they will be affected first if the Southern Nevada Water Authority sucks their valley dry." The authority needs clearance from the state to dewater 16 rural counties at an estimated cost of $2 billion; this fall's hearing involves 25 groundwater applications that were originally filed in 1990. No word yet on whether the hoofed group gets equal time.  

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