The Three Gorges Project (TGP) is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. It is crucial to understand the relationship between runoff regime changes and TGP’s full operation after 2009 in the Yangtze River Basin (YRB). This paper defines core, extended and buffer areas of YRB, analyzes the effects of TGP on runoff anomaly (RA), runoff variation (RV) and change of coefficient of variation (CCV) between two periods (2003–2008 and 2009–2016), takes percentage of runoff anomaly (PRA) as the evaluation standard, assures alleviation effect on severe dry and wet years of the research area, and finally summarizes related benefits of flood control from TGP. Our results indicate the inter-annual fluctuation of runoff in the core and extended areas expanded, but reduced in the buffer areas, and the frequencies of severe dry and wet years alleviated in the buffer, core and extended areas. Generally, the extended and core areas become less wet, and the buffer areas become less dry. The RV and CCV are both strengthened in the extended and core areas, but are weakened in the buffer areas, and RV is well positively correlated (R2
= 0.80) to CCV. Furthermore, the main benefits of TGP on flood control are remarkable in the reduction of disaster affected population, the decrease of agricultural disaster-damaged area, and the decline of direct economic loss. However, due to torrentially seasonal and non-seasonal precipitation, the sharp rebounds of three standards for Hubei and Anhui occurred in 2010 and 2016, and the percentage of agricultural damage area of five regions in the core and extended areas did not decline synchronously and performed irregularly. Our results suggest that the five key regions along the main branches of the Yangtze River should establish a flood control system and promote the connectivity of infrastructures at different levels to meet the significant functions of TGP. It is a great challenge for TGP operation to balance the benefits and conflicts among flood control, power generation and water resources supply in the future.
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