Using the multi-scale entropy analysis (MSE), we study the effects of water reservoirs on the river flow records based on long streamflow series covering January 1, 1954 and December 31, 2009 at four representative hydrological stations, i.e. the Longchuan, the Heyuan, the Lingxia and the Boluo stations. Hydrological effects of two major water reservoirs, the Xinfengjiang and the Fengshuba water reservoirs, are evaluated. The results indicate that: (1) before the construction of the water reservoirs, the complexity of the streamflow series comes to be decreasing from the upper to the lower East River and which should be attributed to the topographical properties and buffering effects of the river channel; (2) construction of water reservoirs greatly increases the complexity degree of the hydrological processes, and this influence is subjected to a damping process with the increase of distance between the water reservoirs and the hydrological stations; (3) power generation is the major function of the water reservoirs in the East River basin. The results of this study should be of theoretical and scientific merits in terms of conservation of the ecological environment and also water resources management under the influences of climate changes and intensifying human activities. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.