Identifying critical elements in drinking water distribution networks using graph theory

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Drinking water distribution networks (WDNs) are a crucial infrastructure for life in cities. Deterioration of this ageing, and partly hidden from view, infrastructure can result in losses due to leakage and an increased contamination risk. To counteract this, maintenance strategies are required to maintain the service level. Information on the most critical elements of a WDN, with respect to the functioning of the system as a whole, is essential for prioritising maintenance or rehabilitation activities. In this study a Graph theory based method is developed and applied for efficiently identifying the most critical elements. The main advantage of this method is that it avoids the need to perform elaborate hydrodynamic model calculations. Instead, the structure of the network is the main starting point. The results show that the structure of the network is more decisive than the hydraulics with respect to the criticality of the system’s performance as a whole. Results depict that the suggested approach is applicable not only to the main (primary) network, but also to the capillaries which are normally beyond the scope of the traditional methods applied so-far because of the complexity of the networks and the required calculation time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-360
Number of pages14
JournalStructure and Infrastructure Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • asset management
  • critical elements
  • deterioration
  • drinking water distribution networks
  • Graph theory
  • leakages
  • maintenance


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