The musty odorant (2-methylisoborneol, MIB) is prevalent in source water reservoirs and has become one of the major challenges for drinking water quality. This study proposes an approach to control the growth of MIB-producing cyanobacteria in a small reservoir based on hydraulic regulation, according to the results of long-term field investigations, laboratory culture experiments, model construction, and field application. Field investigations found that longer hydraulic retention time (HRT) is a factor that triggers MIB episodes. The culture study revealed that the maximum cell density, growth rate of MIB-producing Planktothricoides raciborskii, and MIB concentration are determined by the HRT (R^2^= 0.94, p-value < 0.001) and can be minimized by decreasing the HRT to less than 10 $d$. On this basis, an HRT regulation model was constructed and validated by field investigation, and critical HRT values were evaluated for 14 cyanobacteria genera. By decreasing the HRT to 5.4 ± 0.8 $d$, which is lower than the critical value of 7.5 ~ 15.0 $d$, an MIB episode was successfully terminated in ZXD Reservoir in 2021. The results suggest that the proposed principle can provide a scientific basis for HRT regulation, which has been proved to be effective and feasible. This approach avoids negative impacts on water quality, does not require extra investment in engineering infrastructure, and in some cases may be applied readily by changing existing operational procedures. Therefore, HRT-based regulation is a promising strategy targeting MIB control and possibly for other cyanobacterial-derived water quality problems in small reservoirs.