Water level variation characteristics under the impacts of extreme drought and the operation of the Three Gorges Dam

  • Yuanfang Chai
  • Yitian Li
  • Yunping Yang
  • Sixuan Li
  • Wei Zhang
  • Jinqiu Ren
  • Haibin Xiong
Research Article


Under the influence of a climate of extreme drought and the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) operation, the water levels in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River in 2006 and 2011 changed significantly compared with those in the extreme drought years of 1978 and 1986. To quantitatively analyze the characteristics of water level variations in 2006 and 2011, a new calculation method was proposed, and the daily water level and discharge from 1955–2016 were collected in this study. The findings are as follows: in 2006 and 2011, the water level in the dry season significantly increased, but that in the flood season obviously decreased compared with the levels in 1978 and 1986. Here, we described this phenomenon as “no low-water-level in dry season, no high-water-level in flood season”. Based on the calculation method, the contributions of climate variability and the Three Gorges Dam operation to water level variations in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River were calculated, and the contributions indicated that climate variability was the main reason for the phenomenon of “no low-water-level in dry season, no high-water-level in flood season” instead of flood peak reduction in the flood season and drought runoff implementation in the dry season, which are both induced by TGD.


water level extreme drought climate the Three Gorges Dam the Yangtze River Basin 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This research was supported by the National Science and Technology Support Program of China (2012BAB04B04), the National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2010CB429002), Open Research Fund Program of State Key Laboratory of Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Science (2016HLG02), and National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0402106). We also highly appreciate the valuable insights from the reviewers.


  1. Bian D, Bian B, Ba L A, Wang C, Chen T (2010). The response of water level of Selin Co to climate change. Acta Geogr Sin, 65(3): 313–319Google Scholar
  2. Cao L, Zhang Y, Shi Y (2011). Climate change effect on hydrological processes over the Yangtze River Basin. Quat Int, 244(2): 202–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dai A, Trenberth K E, Karl T R (1998). Global variations in droughts and wet spells: 1900–1995. Geophys Res Lett, 25(17): 3367–3370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dai H C, He WS, Yuan J, Cao S Y (2005). Analysis on scour and deposit variation characteristic of sediment after the operation of Gezhouba hydro project. Advances in Water Science, 16(5): 691–695Google Scholar
  5. Dai L, Mao J, Wang Y, Dai H, Zhang P, Guo J (2016b). Optimal operation of the Three Gorges Reservoir subject to the ecological water level of Dongting Lake. Environ Earth Sci, 75(14): 1111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dai Z J, Chu A, Du J Z, Stive M, Hong Y (2010a). Assessment of extreme drought and human interference on baseflow of the Yangtze River. Hydrol Processes, 24(6): 749–757CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dai Z J, Chu A, Stive M, Du J Z, Li J F (2011). Is the Three Gorges Dam the cause behind the extremely low suspended sediment discharge into the Yangtze (Changjiang) Estuary of 2006? Hydrol Sci J, 56(7): 1280–1288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dai Z J, Du J Z, Chu A, Li J F, Chen J Y, Zhang X L (2010b). Groundwater discharge to the Changjiang River, China, during the drought season of 2006: effects of the extreme drought and the impoundment of the Three Gorges Dam. Hydrogeol J, 18(2): 359–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dai Z J, Du J, Li J, Li W, Chen J (2008a). Runoff characteristics of the Changjiang River during 2006: effect of extreme drought and the impounding of the Three Gorges Dam. Geophys Res Lett, 35(7): L07406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dai Z J, Fagherazzi S, Mei X, Gao J (2016a). Decline in suspended sediment concentration delivered by the Changjiang (Yangtze) River into the East China Sea between 1956 and 2013. Geomorphology, 268: 123–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dai Z J, Li J F, Zhao J K, Jiang C J, Zhang X L (2010c). Adjustment processes of runoff among river, lake and reservoir along mid-lower reaches of Changjiang River during 2006 extreme drought year. Scientia Geographica Sinica, 30(4): 577–581Google Scholar
  12. Dai Z J, Li W H, Li J F, Chen J Y (2008b). Analysis of the saltwater intrusion in the Changjiang Estuary during the flood season in extreme drought year. Advances in Water Science, 19(6): 835–840Google Scholar
  13. Dai Z J, Liu J T (2013). Impacts of large dams on downstream fluvial sedimentation: an example of the Three Gorges Dam (TGD) on the Changjiang (Yangtze River). J Hydrol (Amst), 480(4): 10–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Deng W, Wang G, Zhang X (2015). A novel hybrid water quality time series prediction method based on cloud model and fuzzy forecasting. Chemom Intell Lab Syst, 149: 39–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fischer P, Öhl U (2005). Effects of seasonal water level fluctuations on the littoral benthic fish community in a large lake: Lake Constance, Germany. Science, 314(5806): 1761–1764Google Scholar
  16. Gibson J J, Prowse T D, Peters D L (2006). Partitioning impacts of climate and regulation on water level variability in Great Slave Lake. J Hydrol (Amst), 329(1–2): 196–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gu H, Yu Z, Wang G, Wang J, Ju Q, Yang C, Fan C (2015). Impact of climate change on hydrological extremes in the Yangtze River Basin, China. Stochastic Environ Res Risk Assess, 29(3): 693–707CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Han J, Sun Z, Li Y (2017b). Distribution of erosion intensity in the Jingjiang reach influenced by the Three Gorges Dam. Earth Surf Process Landf, 43(6): 2654–2665Google Scholar
  19. Han J, Sun Z, Li Y, Yang Y (2017c). Combined effects of multiple largescale hydraulic engineering on water stages in the middle Yangtze River. Geomorphology, 298: 31–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Han J, Zhang W, Fan Y, Yu M (2017a). Interacting effects of multiple factors on the morphological evolution of the meandering reaches downstream the Three Gorges Dam. J Geogr Sci, 27(10): 1268–1278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hu Q F, Wang Y T (2009). Impact assessment of climate change and human activities on annual highest water level of Taihu Lake. Water Science and Engineering, 2(1): 1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kuang C, Chen W, Gu J, Su T C, Song H, Ma Y, Dong Z (2017). River discharge contribution to sea-level rise in the Yangtze River Estuary, China. Cont Shelf Res, 134: 63–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lai X, Jiang J, Yang G, Lu X (2014). Should the Three Gorges Dam be blamed for the extremely low water levels in the middle-lower Yangtze River? Hydrol Processes, 28(1): 150–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Li C, Wang J, Hu R, Yin S, Bao Y, Li Y (2017). ICESat/GLAS-derived changes in the water level of Hulun Lake, Inner Mongolia, from 2003 to 2009. Front Earth Sci, 12(2): 1–11Google Scholar
  25. Li Q, Yu M, Lu G, Cai T, Bai X, Xia Z (2011). Impacts of the Gezhouba and Three Gorges Reservoirs on the sediment regime in the Yangtze River, China. J Hydrol (Amst), 403(3–4): 224–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lin H, Hu J, Zhu J, Cheng P, Chen Z, Sun Z, Chen D (2017). Tide and wind-driven variability of water level in Sansha Bay, Fujian, China. Front Earth Sci, 11(2): 332–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lin L I, Shi X H, Shen H Y, Dai S, Xiao J S (2011). Cause of water level fluctuation in Qinghai Lake from 1960 to 2009 and its future trend forecasting. Journal of Natural Resources, 26(9): 1566–1574 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  28. Liu J P, Xu K H, Li A C, Milliman J D, Velozzi D M, Xiao S B, Yang Z S (2007). Flux and fate of Yangtze River sediment delivered to the East China Sea. Geomorphology, 85(3–4): 208–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mei X F, Dai Z J, Wei W, Gao J J (2016). Dams induced stage–discharge relationship variations in the upper Yangtze River basin. Hydrol Res, 47(1): 157–170Google Scholar
  30. Mei X, Dai Z J, Darby S E, Gao S, Wang J, Jiang W (2018). Modulation of extreme flood levels by impoundment significantly offset by floodplain loss downstream of the Three Gorges Dam. Geophys Res Lett, 45(7): 3147–3155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Milano P D (2012). Study of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Water Level Rise of the Des Prairies River. Dissertation for Ph.D Degree. Politecnico Di Milano, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  32. Simon G, Lendasse A, Cottrell M, Fort J C, Verleysen M (2004). Double quantization of the regressor space for long-term time series prediction: method and proof of stability. Neural Netw, 17(8–9): 1169–1181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sun J, Lei X, Tian Y, Liao W, Wang Y (2013). Hydrological impacts of climate change in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River Basin. Quat Int, 304(447): 62–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang J, Sheng Y, Gleason C J, Wada Y (2013). Downstream Yangtze River levels impacted by Three Gorges Dam. Environ Res Lett, 8(4): 044012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wang J, Sheng Y, Wada Y (2017). Little impact of the Three Gorges Dam on recent decadal lake decline across China’s Yangtze Plain. Water Resour Res, 53(5): 3854–3877CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Williams G P, Wolman M G (1984). Downstream effects of dams on alluvial rivers. US Geol Surv Prof Pap, 1286: 38Google Scholar
  37. Wu G (2008). Impact of Human Activities on Water Level and Clarity and Underwater Light Climate of Vallisneria spiralis L. in Poyan Lake, China. Dissertation for Ph.D Degree. Wageningen University, Wageningen, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  38. Wu H, Wang N, Jiang X, Guo Z (2014). Variations in water level and glacier mass balance in Nam Co Lake, Nyainqentanglha range, Tibetan Plateau, based on ICESat data for 2003–09. Ann Glaciol, 55 (66): 239–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Xiao K, Griffis T J, Baker J M, Bolstad P V, Erickson MD, Lee X, Wood J D, Hu C, Nieber J L (2018). Evaporation from a temperate closedbasin lake and its impact on present, past, and future water level. J Hydrol (Amst), 561: 59–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Xu Q (2013). Study of sediment deposition and erosion patterns in the middle and downstream Changjiang mainstream after impoundment of TGR. Journal of Hydroelectric Engineering, 32(2): 146–154 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  41. Yan H, Dai Z J, Li J F, Zhao J K, Zhang X L, Chen J Y (2008). Variation of bed-load and suspended sediment along middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River during the period of the extreme low discharge in 2006. Resources & Environment in the Yangtze Basin, 17(a01): 82–87 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  42. Yang G L, Xiang H, Yu M H, Duan W Z, Qin L C (2009). Variations of low water level and river bed in middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River. Engineering Journal of Wuhan University, 42(1): 64–68 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  43. Yang S L, Lin L, Wu S Q, Lin Y, He C N, Zhou Z (2013). Water level change downstream of Shuikou hydropower station caused by sand mining and flow scour. Journal of Hydroelectric Engineering, 32(4): 137–142 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  44. Yang Y P, Zhang M J, Sun Z H, Han J Q, Li H G, You X Y (2017a). The relationship between water level change and river channel geometry adjustment in the downstream of the Three Gorges Dam (TGD). Acta Geogr Sin, 72(5): 776–789Google Scholar
  45. Yang Y, Zhang M, Zhu L, Liu W, Han J, Yang Y (2017b). Influence of large reservoir operation on water-levels and flows in reaches below dam: case study of the Three Gorges Reservoir. Sci Rep, 7(1): 15640CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Yu H, Wu Y, Zhang J, Deng B, Zhu Z (2011). Impact of extreme drought and the Three Gorges Dam on transport of particulate terrestrial organic carbon in the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. J Geophys Res Earth Surf, 116(F4): F04029CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zeng X F, Zhao N, Zhou J Z (2013). Study on hydropower energy and its future changes in the Upper Yangtze River Basin under climate change. Adv Mat Res, 648: 232–236Google Scholar
  48. Zhang Y, Xu Y, Dong W, Cao L, Sparrow M (2006). A future climate scenario of regional changes in extreme climate events over China using the PRECIS climate model. Geophys Res Lett, 33(24): L24702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zhu L L, Yang X, Xu Q X (2017). Response of low water level change to bed erosion and the operation of Three Gorges Reservoir in upper Jingjiang reach. Acta Geogr Sin, 72(7): 1184–1194Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuanfang Chai
    • 1
  • Yitian Li
    • 1
  • Yunping Yang
    • 2
  • Sixuan Li
    • 1
  • Wei Zhang
    • 1
  • Jinqiu Ren
    • 1
  • Haibin Xiong
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering ScienceWuhan UniversityWuhanChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Engineering Sediment, Tianjin Research Institute forWater Transport EngineeringMinistry of TransportTianjinChina

Personalised recommendations