Where: Sierra County, New Mexico

Problem: Small water systems lack the technical, financial and managerial capacity to manage their systems.

Solution: Rural Community Assistance Corporation provides technical assistance to ensure compliance with regulations.


Desertaire Water Company is a small community water system in Sierra County, New Mexico, located in a 16-acre subdivision near Elephant Butte on the Rio Grande, about 60 miles from Las Cruces. There are 30 households in the community and most residents are retired or live on fixed incomes.

Since the 1970s, Desertaire has struggled to provide this southern New Mexico rural community with clean, usable water from two wells that support 22 active water meters. Salem Sager, a small businessman who owns a local gas station, purchased the utility in 2011. With Sager as the sole owner and operator, Desertaire struggled to meet water quality standards and comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). In 2019, the state Drinking Water Bureau (DWB) found 10 significant deficiencies requiring immediate action.

Sager was exhausted and almost ready to give up when in December 2021, DWB reached out to Ramon Lucero, Santa Fe Regional Manager at Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), to request technical assistance to Desertaire to correct the deficiencies. The project was assigned to Rural Development Specialist (RDS) Joseph Valdez, a technical assistance provider with RCAC. Valdez reviewed Desertaire’s sanitary survey before strategizing with the small utility to resolve the issues. The pair examined various options to enhance the utility’s sustainability and worked to correct solvable issues such as damaged equipment and a lack of system maps, and develop an Operations & Management Plan and an Emergency Response Plan.

DWB has shown flexibility and extended the compliance timeline in response to Desertaire’s efforts to comply with regulations. RCAC continues to assist Desertaire in addressing challenges such as connecting to another utility’s infrastructure and seeking additional water supplies. Sager is emphatically grateful for RCAC’s technical assistance.

“New Mexico is a very rural state—we have so many companies, RV parks, and other places with their own water systems or private wells,” he said. “If they knew about RCAC, my goodness, that would really be great.”