The rapid economic development of river basins depends on the excessive use of water resources. China experienced a rapid development of hydropower projects in the last two decades and thus faces many ecological and environmental issues, especially in ecologically sensitive areas. Environmental flow is an important management tool that requires attention in the environmental impact assessment of hydropower projects. Environmental flows are of great significance for maintaining river structures and protecting the health of both aquatic ecosystems and human sustainable livelihoods. Although the government authorities have done much work in this area and attempted to consider technical requirements to address the negative externalities of hydropower projects, there are still defects in the basic procedures, calculation methods, and ultimately implementation process from policy to operationalization in terms of environmental flows. The official standards for environmental flows assessment mainly appear in two documents: 1. specification for calculation of environmental flow in rivers and lakes; and 2. code for calculation ecological flow of hydropower projects. This paper reviewed the overarching framework of the two documents and then summarized their fitness in terms of environmental flows implementation in hydropower projects. The research status of environmental flows and future directions for China were also proposed in this paper.
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