Standard impoundment operation rules (SIOR) are pre-defined guidelines for refilling reservoirs before the end of the wet season. The advancement and availability of the seasonal flow forecasts provide the opportunity for reservoir operators to use flexible and early impoundment operation rules (EIOR). These flexible impoundment rules can significantly improve water conservation, particularly during dry years. In this study, we investigate the potential application of seasonal streamflow forecasts for employing EIOR in the upper Yangtze River basin. We first define thresholds to determine the streamflow condition in September, which is an important period for decision-making in the basin, and then select the most suitable impoundment operation rules accordingly. The thresholds are used in a simulation–optimization model to evaluate different scenarios for EIOR and SIOR by multiple objectives. We measure the skill of the GloFAS-Seasonal forecast, an operational global seasonal river flow forecasting system, to predict streamflow condition according to the selected thresholds. The results show that: (1) the 20th and 30th percentiles of the historical September flow are suitable thresholds for evaluating the possibility of employing EIOR; (2) compared to climatological forecasts, GloFAS-Seasonal forecasts are skillful for predicting the streamflow condition according to the selected 20th and 30th percentile thresholds; and (3) during dry years, EIOR could improve the fullness storage rate by 5.63% and the annual average hydropower generation by 4.02%, without increasing the risk of flooding. GloFAS-Seasonal forecasts and early reservoir impoundment have the potential to enhance hydropower generation and water utilization.
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