Little Irish Creek–celebrating freedom from diversion!

Judy at Little Irish Creek, March 5, 2023

On March 5, 2023, a perfect Sunday afternoon, 14 people gathered along the banks of Little Irish Creek to celebrate! In November of 2022, the City of Lynchburg had removed the diversion pipe and its apparatus (mortar, bracings, etc.), which had been cemented into the bottom of the stream and syphoning flow from Little Irish into Lynchburg’s reservoir since the early 1960s. The permit that had allowed for the water diversion was scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022. In July of 2022, the City made the decision not to renew that permit. The people sipping sparkling cider by the banks of Little Irish Creek on March 5 had something to do with this fortunate change in Little Irish Creek’s circumstances.

I first saw the absence of pipe and presence of free-flowing current in Little Irish Creek on February 24, when Scott and I drove up here to scope out a good place for people to meet on March 5. My heart leapt to see the whitewater creek roaring through waterfalls and swirling in pools, a stream doing what is was meant to do, being the lifeblood of a thriving community of plants and animals.

We shared tasty snacks brought by group members, and people who had only met virtually before stood chatting happily together in the same place. I was cheered by the friendly energy in the group: people from very different walks of life getting to know each other. And I was touched by the bond between us:  our love for the Pedlar River and concern for its health and future. Most in the group live on land bordering the Pedlar and its feeder streams; most have been residents of the Pedlar River watershed for decades. All of us were warmed by the early spring sunshine and by our attachment to the common ground we were standing on: the Pedlar River watershed; the place we call home. See Shannon Brennan’s column in the News&Advance here.

where the pipe once was


Little Irish Creek diversion pipe February 2022

In 2002, the renewal of the 20-year-permit had slipped by, unnoticed and unpublicized, only a month or two before I learned about it. I vowed to myself then that if I were still around in 2022, I would make sure this pipe was noticed and contested. As the winter of 2020 turned to 2021, I was already having discussions with fisheries biologists I knew from working with them on field trips for schoolchildren in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I showed them my copy of the permit and questioned them about what would need to change to address today’s environmental standards. I reached out to the District Ranger at USFS to find out what the procedure would be for the permit’s renewal process, asking whether any updating or public comment would be part of that process. A year before the permit’s scheduled expiration date, the group of people pictured above (and a few others who couldn’t join us last Sunday) had begun to find each other and figure out ways to get rid of the pipe. The City of Lynchburg heard from several of us individually on various occasions during the months before they had to make their decision. And little by little over time, our clear message seeped into the conversations of both USFS and City officials: that the continued diversion of Little Irish Creek was ecologically and ethically untenable.

Little Irish diversion pipe during the drought of 2008, photo courtesy of Steve Saylor

The last effort I made to influence the outcome of the permit negotiations was two months prior to when the City made its decision. I reached out to the City of Lynchburg’s public relations department, urging their staff person (who will remain unnamed, since the person I talked with is no longer listed in that department) to set up a conference call for our group of Amherst County residents who wanted to speak with Tim Mitchell,  Director of the City of Lynchburg’s water resources department, about their concerns. The morning of that scheduled afternoon call, the City decided not to renew the permit—a decision that was not to be made public until the following day. Nine people joined that conference call, during which the PR person sought and gained permission to tell us what would be in the next day’s press release: that the City had decided not to seek renewal of the permit. No matter the cause one ascribes to it, the City’s decision to let the permit expire was a rare victory for the natural world and those of us who work tirelessly to protect it. 

Judy and Jasper

The years blurred for me on Sunday March 5, though, and it seemed somehow that Little Irish had always been free and clear as we heard her whitewater music and stood in a circle near her banks to drink a sparkling cider toast to her beauty, her freedom, and to the end of the permit. We felt blessed by the old forest surrounding Little Irish Creek, whose shade keeps the waters cool and oxygen-rich. With the diversion pipe gone, all of Little Irish Creek can help support the Pedlar River at a very thirsty place: Little Irish’s confluence with the Pedlar is just below where the river’s flow is stopped by the City of Lynchburg’s reservoir dam.  

If you, too, are interested in helping protect the Pedlar River and its feeder streams from unwise policy decisions, if you’d like to know more about how what you do on your land impacts the waterways, and/or if you know of a problem affecting the Pedlar or its feeder streams and want help solving it, please leave a comment/reply to this post and share your thoughts. Let’s keep this conversation going!

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Hooray! A very enjoyable day.

  2. Laura Henry-Stone

    I lived in Lynchburg for seven years, drinking water from the Pedlar Reservoir. I still teach at the University of Lynchburg and so continue to rely on water from the Pedlar. It will never cease to amaze me how few people in Lynchburg know where their precious drinking water comes from. Now I live on a piece of property that sits on the divide between the Pedlar River, just upstream of its mouth on the James, and Wilderness Creek. At home, I drink well water that comes from the groundwater that feeds these waterways as well. While I may be a newcomer to this watershed, I feel a deep sense of stewardship and often look to Judy and to the original stewards of this land—the Monacan people—for inspiration to stay focused on the long view. I will use this beautiful story in my teaching about environmental science and sustainability. Thank you, Judy and everyone else who advocates for the wellbeing of other-than-human beings, including rivers.

Comments are closed