In 1970, Sally and David Laughlin of Woodstock, Vermont, had a bright, vastly unpopular idea: to clean up the Ottauquechee River, which had been polluted with runoff from local mills and, during more recent years, with raw sewage. Like many unpopular bright ideas, theirs turned out to be visionary. David Laughlin, a dentist by profession, shared in a 2018 interview with Tim Traver, for his book, Fly Fishing & Conservation in Vermont: Stories of the Battenkill and Beyond, “My office was right on the river, so every morning, I could see the river running yellow or blue depending on what the dyes in the Bridgewater Mill were that day. I knew the river was in trouble but had no idea how bad it was.”
In the 1960s, a treatment plant had been constructed in Woodstock, but by 1970 most of the town had not been connected to the facility, and runoff went straight to the river. At the time, the town select board felt no compunction to address the problem, or to adhere to the newly-crafted state laws requiring clean waterways. In the early ‘70s, environmental concerns were largely overlooked, and the push to clean up the Ottauquechee was considered quaint, perhaps eccentric, a barrier to commerce, and a financial burden to the town.