A coalition of Colorado environmental groups said Thursday that it will concentrate in the upcoming legislative session on passing bills designed to promote healthy rivers, solar energy and smart growth.

Elsie Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, which represents more than 100 organizations, said the group wants to ensure “smart growth” by making sure state transportation dollars are used more effectively to reduce traffic and to assure there are sustainable water supplies.

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said the effort to promote healthy rivers and streams will be done by “providing more freedom for water-right holders to be able to put water back into rivers.”

Nickum said healthy rivers are among the state’s most valuable assets, preserving water quality for a variety of uses, providing a healthy habitat for fish and wildlife and helping the economy by promoting recreation and tourism.

“There are rivers that, because of the growing demand associated with Colorado’s rapid growth over recent years, are de-watered and some that are completely dried up at certain times,” he said.

Nickum said a fair way to help get water back into the streams and rivers and to keep them flowing is to work with “willing water-right holders to help them put water back in the streams and compensate them for that.” Under current law, he said, water-right holders don’t have incentive to do that and “actually face potential penalties for doing so.”

Pam Kiely, legislative program director for Environment Colorado, said an ambitious “Go Solar” package of legislation calls for a standard rebate for the installation of a home solar system and a state tax credit for new construction and retrofits to existing homes that meet efficiency levels.

The coalition also is proposing legislation that would require municipal utilities and rural electric co-ops to invest 2 percent of their retail receipts on cost-effective energy programs for their customers starting in 2010.

“The bottom line is that it is time for Colorado to go solar by continuing to be smart about how we use our current energy resources and use them more efficiently,” said Kiely.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said he considered the broad proposals “wonderful” as long as they don’t get into mandates and taxes.

“We want to be as green as anyone, but we also need to measure the costs and impact on individual liberty,” he said.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said he was concerned about the term “smart growth.”

“When you say smart growth, that is telling people how to live,” said Gardner. “I don’t think that is appropriate.”

Howard Pankratz: 303-954-1939 or hpankratz@denverpost.com