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Three-Level Framework, Level 3: Examining Tradeoffs and Predicting Results of Operational Changes

A Level-3 process is appropriate for situations that require a high degree of certainty before any operational changes can made. Such situations may include those where water is over-allocated and heavily contested, the presence of endangered species limits operational flexibility, defined policies dictate processes, or binding (or nearly binding) long-term decisions are being made (e.g., the latter two are characteristic of the relicensing of hydropower dams before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC). In these situations, decision makers will require a higher threshold of rigorous analysis before initiating an environmental flow program. Thus, a Level 3 process is characterized by greater up-front investment in more sophisticated methods for examining tradeoffs and predicting results of operational changes. 

However, we recommend that a Level 3 process retain many of the features of a Level 2 process that are intended to develop collaborative relationships — facilitating subsequent implementation — and those features that strategically target research funds at the most important issues and most problematic uncertainties. For example, the suite of technical studies, models and analyses within a Level 3 approach can be selected through interdisciplinary workshops. Informed by expert input in the workshops, the research and modeling program of a Level 3 approach can incorporate a broad range of specific methods, including both typical environmental flow assessment techniques as well as diverse approaches for studying riverine processes (e.g., water temperature models, fish passage studies).