Criteria & Standards

On November 20, 2014, the Governing Board of the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) approved significant changes to the LIHI Certification criteria, and on March 8, 2016, LIHI published the 2nd Edition Certification Handbook that implements the revised criteria. The Handbook has since undergone minor revisions. To access the current version of the Handbook, visit the Certification Handbook page.

Applications for Low Impact Certification are evaluated using a consistent, hierarchical set of eight criteria, goals, and standards. All criteria and their respective goals must be satisfied, but the alternative standards are designed to be flexible enough to be applicable to the wide range of conditions that can occur at different hydropower facilities in different river systems.

The criteria are defined for the primary areas of social and environmental impact associated with hydropower facilities. Goal statements are provided for each criterion (Handbook Section 3) and define the purpose or objective that must be satisfied. There are eight criteria and supporting goal statements, all of which must be met for a facility to become Low Impact Certified:

  1. Ecological Flow Regimes
  2. Water Quality Protection
  3. Upstream Fish Passage
  4. Downstream Fish Passage and Protection
  5. Shoreline and Watershed Protection
  6. Threatened and Endangered Species Protection
  7. Cultural and Historic Resource Protection
  8. Recreational Resources
For each criterion and supporting goal statement, a set of alternative standards provide a menu of alternatives by which each criterion goal can be met. Each set of standards are prefaced by an introduction that includes a short, generalized statement of how they are to be applied (Handbook Section 3). The introduction also includes requirements that apply to the standards that are critical to satisfying the goal for that criterion. The introduction is followed by two to four alternative methods of satisfying the criteria. The order of the alternative standards is consistent for all criteria.

The first standard for each criterion is a “Not Applicable or De Minimis Effect (NA/DME)” standard that recognizes that some types of facilities either do not have impacts on the respective goal or impacts to that goal would be so minimal that they would be difficult to measure. This standard is a streamlined way to satisfy a particular criterion where circumstances justify it. Facilities that satisfy the first standard for all eight criteria will be rewarded in the form of a longer term (10-year) LIHI Certificate and reduced certification review and annual fees (see Handbook Section 4.4). An example of a project type that might qualify for NA/DME standards would be a conduit facility that does not discharge back into a natural waterway.

For most criteria, the second standard requires meeting the latest and most stringent science-based recommendation of the relevant state or federal resource agencies whose mandates are to protect the resources relevant to the criterion. It is the responsibility of the applicant to explain in their application how the requirement of a science-based agency recommendation is satisfied through reference to the methods, procedures, and/or studies used to develop those recommendations.

To accommodate situations where resource agency recommendations do not exist and the NA/DME standard cannot be applied, a higher numbered standard can be used to meet the goals through demonstrated best practices and technologies.

The numbering and order of alternative standards is important. With the exception of the PLUS standards, an applicant should attempt to satisfy a lower numbered standard first. Applying a higher numbered standard implies that the lower numbered standard is not appropriate or not possible to meet. Applicants should consult with LIHI staff early in the application process to determine which standards are most appropriate for specific facilities (see Handbook Section 4.1 and 4.2).

In addition to the alternative standards needed to satisfy a criterion’s goal, each criterion also includes a PLUS standard, which offers a reward of a longer term of the LIHI Certificate for facilities that demonstrate substantial extra efforts in environmental and social mitigation, enhancement, or restoration. Some examples include deploying advanced technologies, implementing science-based adaptive management programs or basin-scale redevelopment strategies, or supporting a watershed enhancement fund, enhanced educational opportunities, or enhanced recreational amenities. An applicant will earn an extra three years of term for the first PLUS standard that is applied, and another two years for additional PLUS standards applied, up to a maximum term of 10 years (maximum of 2 PLUS standards). The application for PLUS standards should be discussed with LIHI staff during the intake review and will need to be approved during the certification review and subsequent decision process.