Domain-informed variational neural networks and support vector machines based leakage detection framework to augment self-healing in water distribution networks

Lauren McMillan*, Jawad Fayaz, Liz Varga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The reduction of water leakage is essential for ensuring sustainable and resilient water supply systems. Despite recent investments in sensing technologies, pipe leakage remains a significant challenge for the water sector, particularly in developed nations like the UK, which suffer from aging water infrastructure. Conventional models and analytical methods for detecting pipe leakage often face reliability issues and are generally limited to detecting leaks during nighttime hours. Moreover, leakages are frequently detected by the customers rather than the water companies. To achieve substantial reductions in leakage and enhance public confidence in water supply and management, adopting an intelligent detection method is crucial. Such a method should effectively leverage existing sensor data for reliable leakage identification across the network. This not only helps in minimizing water loss and the associated energy costs of water treatment but also aids in steering the water sector towards a more sustainable and resilient future. As a step towards ‘self-healing’ water infrastructure systems, this study presents a novel framework for rapidly identifying potential leakages at the district meter area (DMA) level. The framework involves training a domain-informed variational autoencoder (VAE) for real-time dimensionality reduction of water flow time series data and developing a two-dimensional surrogate latent variable (LV) mapping which sufficiently and efficiently captures the distinct characteristics of leakage and regular (non-leakage) flow. The domain-informed training employs a novel loss function that ensures a distinct but regulated LV space for the two classes of flow groupings (i.e., leakage and non-leakage). Subsquently, a binary SVM classifier is used to provide a hyperplane for separating the two classes of LVs corresponding to the flow groupings. Hence, the proposed framework can be efficiently utilised to classify the incoming flow as leakage or non-leakage based on the encoded surrogates LVs of the flow time series using the trained VAE encoder. The framework is trained and tested on a dataset of over 2000 DMAs in North Yorkshire, UK, containing water flow time series recorded at 15-minute intervals over one year. The framework performs exceptionally well for both regular and leakage water flow groupings with a classification accuracy of over 98 % on the unobserved test dataset.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120983
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalWater Research
Early online date6 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

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