Folks in our area woke one recent morning to the sound of rain pattering on the roof. Unlike the days-long deluge that drenched the region earlier this month, the rainfall was gentle and not expected to last long.

At most homes, the water runs off the roof and through rainspouts that empty out onto lawns.

Enough rain, and that running water will carve out deep ruts in those lawns.

There is a solution, and it's an easy one that was a common feature at most homes a few generations back: Rain barrels.

The barrels are positioned where they can catch runoff from roofs.

They help in two ways, by diverting runoff so it doesn't erode lawns and flood creeks and streams, and, if the collected runoff is used to water gardens, by conserving water.

On March 16, The Carbon County Environmental Education Center, along Lentz Trail in Summit Hill, held a rain barrel workshop.

Each person in the audience – there was an overflow crowd – was given his or her own rain barrel to take home.

The workshop included learning about storm water and its impact, how municipalities handle runoff, what home owners can do, and how rain barrels can help.

"We're trying to give people tools to be able to make a difference," said Brian Oram, chairman of the Pocono Northeast Resource Conservation and Development Council.

He spoke about the consequences of building houses, roads and shopping malls.

"As we started off developing, we didn't realize the cumulative impact of development would be increased stream flows, making storm flows bigger and decrease groundwater recharge," he said.

In more recent development, retention ponds and other methods of diverting storm water runoff are routine requirements for government approval.

But a lot of land has already been paved or built upon. "We're providing home owners with an educational resource and the tools that they need to make changes that will work for them in the long term," Oram said.

"One first step to make a change would be a water barrel or two at your home," he said.

As the audience at the Environmental Education Center listened to Chris Storm, District Manager of the Carbon County Conservation District, speak about the importance of managing runoff, Oram showed a reporter the blue plastic rain barrels in the center's main room. Each barrel holds 60-80 gallons of water. The barrels have lids with two openings, one of which can be cut out to provide access for a diverter from a downspout.

The barrels can be decorated – "a great summer activity for the kids," Oram said.

The barrels were bought with a $5,000 grant through the League of Women Voters, supported by the Growing Greener program.

The grant paid for hundreds of barrels and at least six similar rain barrel workshops throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, Oram said.

The rain barrel workshop was much needed, said environmental education center Chief Naturalist Susan Gallagher.

The barrels help rain water work as nature intended.

"If storm water is just running off and going right into rivers and streams, you're losing the ability to let it slowly and more naturally recharge ground water reserves," she said. "By using rain barrels, you can head off some of that storm water runoff, and use that water for your plants in your garden or your lawn, and allow it to seep into the ground more naturally and more slowly, the way it was meant to be."