Environmental flow assessment and maintenance are relatively new practices, especially in developing countries. This paper describes the desktop assessment of environmental flows in a river with insufficient data on ecological features and values. In this study, the potential environmental flows in a typical river reach of the Shahr Chai River in Iran were investigated using a newly developed hydrological method (flow duration curve (FDC) shifting) and Global Environmental Flow Calculator software. This approach uses monthly flow data to develop an environmental FDC and to generate flow requirements corresponding to different features of the river ecosystem. Results were compared with those from four alternative hydrological methods: the desktop reserve model (DRM), Tennant, low-flow index, and flow duration curve analysis (FDCA). Comparisons of these methods indicated that to maintain the basic function of the river ecosystem, the river flows should be managed within an acceptable environmental level. The predictions from the Tennant method and the low-flow index (7-day low flow with a 10-year return period), and from the FDCA (for flows exceeding 90 % of occurrence) are not as reliable as those from the FDC shifting technique and DRM. Comparative results indicate that a minimum flow rate of 1.2 m3/s (equivalent to 23 % of the natural mean annual runoff, or flow with 80 % occurrence depicted from the FDC) is required for the Shahr Chai River to run toward the internationally recognized Urmia Lake in Iran.