On November 20, 2014, the Governing Board of the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) approved significant changes to the Certification Criteria, and on March 8, 2016, LIHI published the 2nd Edition LIHI Certification Handbook that implements the revised criteria.  The Handbook has since undergone three minor revisions. To access the new Handbook, Revision 2.03 currently in effect, visit the How To Apply page.

The Certification Criteria are provided in full, in Section 3 of the 2nd Edition Handbook.  The introductory text of Section 3 is as follows:

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 by one or more standard, but the standards are designed to be flexible enough to be applicable to the wide range of conditions that can occur in river systems and at hydropower facilities.  If any of the criteria are not satisfied, the facility cannot be certified as low impact.

The key element of the LIHI certification process is a hierarchical set of criteria, goals for each criterion, and alternative standards by which each criterion can be satisfied.  Criteria are defined for areas of potential social and environmental impact associated with hydropower facilities.  Goal statements are provided for each criterion to 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 qualify as low impact:

  • Ecological Flow Regimes
  • Water Quality Protection
  • Upstream Fish Passage
  • Downstream Fish Passage and Protection
  • Watershed and Shoreline Protection
  • Threatened and Endangered Species Protection
  • Cultural and Historic Resource Protection
  • Recreational Resources

For each criterion and supporting goal statement, a set of alternative standards were developed to provide a comprehensive menu of alternatives by which the criterion goal can be met.  Each set of alternative standards are prefaced by an introduction that includes a short, generalized statement of how they are to be applied.  The introduction also includes any requirements that apply to all of the standards and that are critical to satisfying the goal for that criterion.  The introduction is followed by three 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/DE)” 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 first standard is designed to be a streamlined way to satisfy a particular criterion where circumstances justify it.  Facilities that satisfy the first standard for all eight criterion will be rewarded in the form of a longer term (10-year) LIHI certificate and reduced certification review and annual fees (see 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, if applicable, 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 the criteria are designed to evaluate.  It is the responsibility of the applicant to explain in their application how the requirement of a science-based recommendation is satisfied through references to the methods, procedures, and studies used to develop the recommendations.

For all criteria, to accommodate situations where resource agency recommendations do not exist, other standards can be used to meet the same 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 lower numbered standards first, before applying higher numbered standards.  Applying higher numbered standards implies that lowered numbered standards are not possible or appropriate, which may or may not be the case.  Applicants should consult with LIHI staff early in the application process to determine which standards are most appropriate for specific facilities (see Section 4.1 on processing steps).

In addition to the alternative standards available to satisfy a criterion’s goal, each criterion also includes a “PLUS” standard, which offers a reward in the form of a longer term of the LIHI certificate for facilities that demonstrate substantial extra efforts in environmental and social mitigation, enhancement, and restoration.  Some examples include deploying advanced technologies, science-based adaptive management, basin-scale redevelopment strategies, and supporting a watershed enhancement fund.  An applicant will earn an extra three years of term for the first PLUS standard that is applied, and another two years for each additional PLUS standard applied, up to a maximum term of 10 years.  The application for PLUS standards should be thoroughly discussed with LIHI staff during the intake review and will have to be approved during the certification review and subsequent decision process (see Section 4.2 for further details on the process).