- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A dam that supplies drinking water to roughly 60 percent of the state’s population could likely withstand an earthquake, according to an engineer from the University of Rhode Island.

Assistant Professor Aaron Bradshaw said he worried the soil underneath Rhode Island’s largest dam, the Gainer Memorial Dam at the Scituate Reservoir, was loose and potentially unstable. He performed the first seismic tests on the 88-year-old dam, using ground sensors to monitor vibrations traveling through the earth when the ground was struck. He said there were some pockets of loose soil but overall it was quite dense.

Bradshaw said his research shows the dam could likely withstand a magnitude 5 earthquake locally and a magnitude 6.8 earthquake about 70 miles away. But he said he still would like to test more soil around the 3,000-foot-long, 109-foot-high dam.

“We want to have resilient infrastructure,” he said. “There’s too much at stake.”

The Scituate Reservoir supplies water to about 600,000 people, said Peter LePage, a senior manager of engineering at the Providence Water Supply Board, which operates the dam.

A breach of the dam would jeopardize a major drinking water supply and potentially flood the communities along the river, he added.

LePage said the board routinely inspects the dam and its surrounding area but he’s glad the seismic tests were done because the data will be useful. He said he’s confident the dam will be structurally sound and safe for years to come.

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