This paper presents an efficient and reliable swarm intelligence-based approach, namely elitist-mutated particle swarm optimization (EMPSO) technique, to derive reservoir operation policies for multipurpose reservoir systems. Particle swarm optimizers are inherently distributed algorithms, in which the solution for a problem emerges from the interactions between many simple individuals called particles. In this study the standard particle swarm optimization (PSO) algorithm is further improved by incorporating a new strategic mechanism called elitist-mutation to improve its performance. The proposed approach is first tested on a hypothetical multireservoir system, used by earlier researchers. EMPSO showed promising results, when compared with other techniques. To show practical utility, EMPSO is then applied to a realistic case study, the Bhadra reservoir system in India, which serves multiple purposes, namely irrigation and hydropower generation. To handle multiple objectives of the problem, a weighted approach is adopted. The results obtained demonstrate that EMPSO is consistently performing better than the standard PSO and genetic algorithm techniques. It is seen that EMPSO is yielding better quality solutions with less number of function evaluations.