Dr. Kenkere C. Channabasappa, 53, U.S. project officer for the long-range desalination research and development agreement between this country and Saudi Arabia, died of a heart attack Saturday after undergoing surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Hospital in Celveland, Ohio.

An internationally recognized authority on reverse osmosis desalination he had served as project officer since 1977. The project comes under the Interior Department, which he had joined in 1966 as chief of the membrance division of the office of saline water, now part of the office of water research and technology.

Dr. Channabasappa was born in Mysore State, India. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Mysore and a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University, where he had studied under a Fulbright scholarship and Ford Foundation fellowship. He became an American citizen and worked in private industry as a chemical engineer.

After joining the Interior Department, he twice was honored for outstanding performance.

Dr. Channabasappa was president of the International Desalination and Environmental Association, and a member of the American Chemical Society, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Society for Metals.

He was the author of numerous articles and scientific papers and was chairman of the planning committee of the International Group for Development of Reverse Osmosis Technology.

He is survived by his wife, Vimala, of the home in Alexandria; two sons, Deepak C. Kenkeremath, of Falls Church, and Nandan Kenkeremath, of Alexandria, and two brothers, of India.