The case of a dam for an irrigation reservoir is used as an example to illustrate the different modes of failure of a water resources system. The types of failure to which a dam can be subjected are described in the first section of the paper, in terms of a framework of general reliability analysis. Two applications are considered: the case of operational failure, illustrated by means of an irrigation reservoir for arid countries, and the case of dam failure due to overtopping. Conceptual models are given which permit the inclusion of reliability and other figures of merit into both operation and safety analysis.

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