The large number of dams in the world has caused many ecological problems, especially in ecologically fragile areas. Appropriate environmental flow (e-flows) releases reduce stress on river ecosystems caused by the flow alterations of dams. As e-flow releasing is substantially a decision-making process, it is important to choose the right calculation method in many e-flow assessment frameworks and calculation methods or to select the proper e-flow result from many scenarios. In China, there are government guidelines to assist managers in choosing an e-flow method for their situations, but the technical components of these guidelines are too general and not very specific, even though the coverage of the framework of guidelines is comparatively complete. Thus, a high degree of subjectivity remains in the method selection, and managers are often confused about the different e-flow results and scenarios. A more detailed decision support evaluation (DSE) model which can quantify and compare the results from different calculation methods is therefore needed to provide a basic technical economy evaluation. Based on the relevant policies and the dam priority classification frameworks in China, we propose a DSE model based on the matter element analysis (MEA) method to complement the Chinese e-flow framework. First, the flow regime criteria from the related government guidelines for a variety of conservation objectives are summarized. Secondly, different scenarios of e-flows are calculated based on the formal government guidelines and using the same hydrological database. Finally, the DSE model for assessing the different e-flow scenarios are built and demonstrated. MEA helped to quantify and optimize the different results and reduce the uncertainty. The DSE model presented in this study can be applied to e-flow optimization for all dammed rivers in China and serve as a decision support tool for managers.
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