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The paper describes a specifically adapted optimization method to design the structure and to define the parameters of a central water management system (including local controllers) in a cascade of hydropower plants, with minimum design and realization efforts. The local controller and the central water management system are designed using a hydrodynamic-numerical model coupled with control algorithms, all interacting from one calculation time step to the next. Individual requirements of the cascade of reservoirs like power modulation for high energy production or prevention of the amplification of discharge variations are taken into account. The method has been applied successfully in several projects in research and practice. Case studies of the rivers Rhine and Moselle show its practical application.