Epidemiology of urban water distribution systems

Jean Pierre Bardet, Richard Little

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Urban water distribution systems worldwide contain numerous old and fragile pipes that inevitably break, flood streets and damage property, and disrupt economic and social activities. Such breaks often present dramatically in temporal clusters as occurred in Los Angeles during 2009. These clustered pipe breaks share many characteristics with human mortality observed during extreme climatological events such as heat waves or air pollution. Drawing from research and empirical studies in human epidemiology, a framework is introduced to analyze the time variations of disruptive pipe breaks that can help water agencies better understand clustered pipe failures and institute measures to minimize the disruptions caused by them. It is posited that at any time, a cohort of the pipes comprising the water distribution system will be in a weakened state due to fatigue and corrosion. This frail cohort becomes vulnerable during normal operations and ultimately breaks due to rapid increase in crack lengths induced by abnormal stressors. The epidemiological harvesting model developed in this paper simulates an observed time series of monthly pipe breaks and has both explanatory and predictive power. It also demonstrates that models from nonengineering disciplines such as medicine can provide improved insights into the performance of infrastructure systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6447-6465
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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