Construction of dams and the resulting water impoundments are one of the most common engineering procedures implemented on river systems globally; yet simulating reservoir operation at the regional and global scales remains a challenge in human–earth system interactions studies. Developing a general reservoir operating scheme suitable for use in large-scale hydrological models can improve our understanding of the broad impacts of dams operation. Here we present a novel use of artificial neural networks to map the general input/output relationships in actual operating rules of real world dams. We developed a new general reservoir operation scheme (GROS) which may be added to daily hydrologic routing models for simulating the releases from dams, in regional and global-scale studies. We show the advantage of our model in distinguishing between dams with various storage capacities by demonstrating how it modifies the reservoir operation in respond to changes in the capacity of dams. Embedding GROS in a water balance model, we analyze the hydrological impact of dam size as well as their distribution pattern within a drainage basin and conclude that for large-scale studies it is generally acceptable to aggregate the capacity of smaller dams and instead model a hypothetical larger dam with the same total storage capacity; however we suggest limiting the aggregation area to HUC 8 sub-basins (approximately equal to the area of a 60 km or a 30 arc-minute grid cell) to avoid exaggerated results.
Dams, Reservoir operation, Neural network, Hydrological alteration, Hydrological models