Celeste Cantú is the general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, a water agency in Riverside, California, that helps coordinate water conservation and accessibility in the region. Before joining a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion on water scarcity in California—Can We Engineer Our Way Out of the Drought?—she talked in the Zócalo green room about gardening, Jerry Brown, and bribing her kids to go to swim practice.
What do you think about when you aren’t thinking about water?
If I’m not thinking about water, I’m gardening—and trying to think about how to get by with less water.
You grew up in California’s Imperial Valley, then went to school at Yale. What’s one thing that New Haven does better than Southern California?
It rains every other day. Because of where I grew up, it was really exciting the first time it rained when I moved to Connecticut.
What’s one of the best things about being a mom?
Having kids is your reality check. They question everything, and they don’t start with assumptions, so they make you really understand where you’re coming from.
You have two sons, both of whom played water polo at the University of California, Berkeley. Did they love the pool growing up, or did you have to force them in?
They were born in the Imperial Valley, and it’s so hot in the summer there that they loved jumping in the pool when they were really young. But neither of them really wanted to go to swim practice, so I had to bribe them with toys.
Do you watch any trashy television?
I started watching Grace and Frankie, the show with Jane Fonda. I think it’s trashy? I’m not sure.
Are you easily embarrassed?
I got over that a long time ago. I’ve been a public employee for a long time.
If you could go canoeing with one living celebrity, who would it be?
If you had to sum up the current drought in California in one word, what would it be?
That’s California. We’re always in drought. It’s really normal.
What’s your favorite musical instrument?
I play piano. I also play French horn, but piano’s my favorite.
If you could be a fruit, what fruit would you be?
A grapefruit. I grow it, and it’s not too sweet, and it gets bitter when chilled.