Walter Burlingham used to hear the croak of frogs during his walks around Wilde Lake. That noise has disappeared.
He used to see snails in the lake, but now they're gone, too, he said.
"Over the years, I've noticed changes," said Mr. Burlingham, a member of the Columbia Waterfowl and Habitat Advisory Committee who lives near the lake. "The ambience now is quite different than it was 20 years ago, from a wildlife standpoint. Lake pollution is more severe than it used to be."
Those observations compelled Mr. Burlingham to become involved in the Columbia Association's fledgling Adopt-A-Stream program, modeled after Maryland's Save Our Streams program, in which volunteers help conserve waterways.
The Columbia program allows residents to compile data on neighborhood streams several times a year so watershed drainage patterns can be recorded and changes in erosion, water quality and garbage dumping can be tracked.
Association ecologist Charles "Chick" Rhodehamel led a second workshop for Columbia residents yesterday at the Owen Brown Community Center. A small group of teachers, wildlife activists, Girl Scout leaders and residents attended.
About 30 "major" streams in the nine Columbia villages have been adopted by groups since the program was launched last spring. The program increases environmental awareness and provides experience in ecological evaluation, Mr. Rhodehamel said.
Columbia was designed to protect environmentally sensitive areas by providing buffer strips and an open space plan to ease the impact of development, he said. But the streams, which flow to the new town's lakes and tributaries leading to the Chesapeake Bay, haven't been immune to urban development and human activity, he said.
"We have an effect on the environment by living," he said. "The houses we live in, the schools we teach in, the roads, the sidewalks, any impervious surface has an effect because there's no longer absorption. It's all of us. We're not blameless."
Individual choices, such as how a property owner cares for his lawn and disposes of yard waste, affect water quality, he said.
Carol Nieberline, a science teacher at Dasher Green Elementary School, said two of her classes want to clean up Lake Elkhorn as a project. She said she'll suggest adopting a stream that is in Lake Elkhorn's watershed and empties into the Little Patuxent River.
"It could help them develop a lifelong commitment to environmental concerns and make them realize they are citizens of the world," she said.
Jan Brudzinski said her fourth-grade gifted and talented class at Phelps Luck Elementary asked to help clean up Jackson Pond after noticing litter scattered around it. Now they will learn about scientific factors that contribute to the health of the pond by adopting a stream that flows into it, she said.
Teresa Tolliver, a Brownie troop leader for Bowman Bridge Elementary, said she plans to adapt the program to the Savage and Jessup area as a project for Girl Scouts.
Tom and Ginger Scott adopted a stream that has special meaning to them -- it runs behind their house in the Running Brook neighborhood of Wilde Lake. When they bought property in Columbia 22 years ago, they were more excited about the nearby stream than the house, Mr. Scott said.