Numerical evaluation of flow regime changes induced by the Three Gorges Dam in the Middle Yangtze

The full operation of the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) has altered the downstream natural flow regime. Flow regime changes have resulted in profound influences on the utility of water resources and hence a large area with a riparian ecosystem including China's two largest freshwater lakes in the Middle Yangtze. Because of complicated flow regimes in this large-scale river–lake system, the TGD's impacts on flow regimes are highly heterogeneous and require to be carefully addressed. To better understand them, we estimated water level and discharge changes solely induced by the TGD from 2006 to 2011 using a hydrodynamic model that facilitates the separation of the TGD's contribution to flow regimes. Results indicated that water regulation of the TGD caused profound impacts on the flow regimes of the Middle Yangtze. In the impoundment period from mid-September to October, rapid and significant decline of the water discharge downstream the TGD produced a prolonged dry season that occurred around 10 days earlier than before. Our analysis elucidated a pattern of recent changes in the flow regimes caused by the TGD. The findings are useful for addressing the TGD-induced environmental issues, optimizing the TGD's operation, and generating adaptive management strategy for the complex river–lake ecosystem.