After years of channeling huge allocations to Northern Virginia for water cleanup - $248 million since 1971 - the State Water Control Board appears ready to start sending the money to areas it considers needier.
Amid angry charges that it is buckling under to dollar-conscious Prince William County supervisors, the staff of the state board has recommended the $12 million in already-committed cleanup funds be shifted from Northern Virginia to other parts of the state.
In another response to Prince William pressures, the staff also has recommended that strict Potomac River pollution standards, due to go into effect in the county, be held up at least for three years.
There was also an angry reaction from top Fairfax County officials, who held a hastily convened meeting yesterday to weigh the implications of the recommmendations.
"They's (the Water Control Board apparently abandoning the commitment they made to Fairfax County," said County Executive Leonard L. Whorton. "If you defer construction of advance treatment facilities and defer the standards, you undermine those standards."
One project that might be lost is the already once-delayed Little Hunting Creek pumpover - a pipeline that would divert up to 6.6 million gallons of sewege daily from an old plant in Fairfax County to an upgraded plant that can provide better treatment.
Whorton and other Fairfax officials were upset not only because that major cleanup project would be deleted but because the water board's latest funding priority list did not give a high rating to another county project that would cost $22 million.
Under the second project, which the county says is for cleanup but some critics say is primarily to handle future growth, sewage would be piped the length of Fairfax County from the fast-growing Herndon-Reston area to the expanded and upgraded lower Potomac treatment plant near Fort Belvoir.
If the county has to pay for both projects, the cost would come to nearly $30 million - a figure, Fairfax officials say, that would severly strain the county's sewer construction fund.
The seven-member Water Control Board is scheduled to take up the staff recommendations next Tuesday in Virginia Beach.
When it meets, the board will have to deal with criticisms sparked by one of its former chairmen, Noman M. Cole Jr., that its staff has caved in to political pressure from Prince William County supervisors.
Besides the Fairfax projects, the staff has suggested shelving plans for advanced treatment facilities at a new plant being built in eastern Prince William. The so-called Mooney plant will have a capacity of 12 million gallons daily.
The supervisors apparently also have been successful in lobbying the agency to shelve stricter pollutions standards for sewage effluent discharged into shallow bays along the Potomac River.
The areas, called embayments, are especially susceptible to pollution because their slow-moving water does not provide a very effective flushing actions.
Cole, who as water control chairman was instrumental in securing hundreds of millions of federal dollars for Northern Virginia, says the effort smacks of "politics."
Cole also said that the board's plan to review the tough policies on pollution in the Occoquan Reservoir - the major source of drinking water for more than 600,000 Northern Virginians - "has the appearance of a politically motivated study."
Since last July, the Prince William supervisors have been lobbying the water board to delay imposition of stricter standards at both the Mooney plant and another one, already in operation, at Dale City.
Less strict standards sought by Prince William would mean fewer expenditures, not only for construction, 75 percent financed by the Environmental Protection Agency, but for operation, which localities must pay entirely.