Wavelet analysis is a powerful tool with which to analyse the hydrologic effects of dam construction and operation on river systems. Using continuous records of instantaneous discharge from the Lees Ferry gauging station and records of daily mean discharge from upstream tributaries, we conducted wavelet analyses of the hydrologic structure of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. The wavelet power spectrum (WPS) of daily mean discharge provided a highly compressed and integrative picture of the post-dam elimination of pronounced annual and sub-annual flow features. The WPS of the continuous record showed the influence of diurnal and weekly power generation cycles, shifts in discharge management, and the 1996 experimental flood in the post-dam period. Normalization of the WPS by local wavelet spectra revealed the fine structure of modulation in discharge scale and amplitude and provides an extremely efficient tool with which to assess the relationships among hydrologic cycles and ecological and geomorphic systems. We extended our analysis to sections of the Snake River and showed how wavelet analysis can be used as a data mining technique. The wavelet approach is an especially promising tool with which to assess dam operation in less well-studied regions and to evaluate management attempts to reconstruct desired flow characteristics. Copyright ?? 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.