Kellie Carpenter Rotunno helps to rule Cleveland’s underworld. She’s director of engineering and construction for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
What’s it like down there?
Underground in Cleveland isn’t that much different than underground in any other city. You’re isolated from the weather. It’s like 58 degrees summer and winter. But many of our tunnels are in Chagrin shale. It’s old beach deposits turned into very laminated rock. It has some methane problems.
When you come out of a tunnel, Cleveland is a welcome sight. Nothing beats a fresh, Cleveland-borne breeze.
How’s our sewage compare to other cities’?
It all stinks. But our sewage affects a Great Lake when it overflows through combined storm-sewage systems.
It affects our basements, too. So why’d we combine them?
It was a good design for our grandparents’ generation. But, as we continue to pave and build, the overflows are far more frequent and detrimental.
What can we do about it?
We’re digging deeper underground to create storage tunnels. We’ve also put in relief sewers. We’ve cut about 4 billion gallons of combined sewage to the lake over the last 30 years. Over the next 25 years, we have the same amount to prevent.
Do you drink our water?
Absolutely. We drink tap water at home and here at the district. I prefer to drink water regulated by the EPA than the FDA.
How about beverages brewed from local water?
I love Great Lakes beer, Great Lakes anything. The company’s great, sustainable, green. They reuse their yeast for bread and pretzels.
Play in our water?
I’ve scuba-dived in Lake Erie over shipwrecks. I took our son, Antonio, kayaking last year off Kelleys Island. And I’ve done three triathlons in Lake Erie. I’ve lived to tell the story. I didn’t get sick.
Hang out by our water?
We live on Edgewater Drive. We’re on the poor side of the street, though, overlooking those beautiful homes on the lake side. The Realtor advertised a spectacular lake view. I have a lake glimpse from one room.
We love to go get ice cream and sit at the park, and Antonio throws sticks and stones into the water. You can hear the waves and the wind and see the city. It’s the dichotomy of a city rising up on a lake, which is a natural sensory experience.
Ice cream from where?
Either from Scoops in Ohio City or Mitchell’s. Scoops has some organic ice creams. At one point, my son wasn’t eating dairy. You could get soy ice cream and sorbets without dairy there.
I’m all about the chocolate peanut butter.
Are women engineers rare?
We don’t have enough. I haven’t had any women role models. But I have a lot of great male role models and some great bosses who are gender-blind.