Virginia Beach, Va., officials may be reassessing their plans to build the controversial $176 million Lake Gaston pipeline to boost its dwindling water supply.

Aides to Rep. Tim Valentine (D-N.C.) said the congressman learned last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met with Virginia Beach officials and representatives of the DuPont Co. to discuss an alternative plan to construction of the 85-mile pipeline.

The discussions center on new methods developed by the DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., that would remove salt from ocean water. Treating the water chemically to make it safe for drinking has been hailed by critics of the pipeline as a cheaper, fairer way to resolve Virginia Beach's projected drinking water crisis.

"This is not a political ploy. It's a realistic method to solve the problem," said A.B. Swindell IV, Valentine's administrative assistant in North Carolina. Swindell said it was Valentine who spotted a newspaper article about the chemical process, dubbed "reverse osmosis," and telephoned DuPont Co. officials to determine if it could be employed in places like Virginia Beach.

Valentine, in conjunction with Rep. W.C. (Dan) Daniel (D-Va.), has led the fight against construction of the pipeline, which would transfer water from Lake Gaston, a man-made lake on the North Carolina border, to fast-growing Virginia Beach.

The Corps of Engineers issued a permit in 1984 authorizing construction of the pipeline. The plan was in response to the city of Norfolk's decision to discontinue supplying Virginia Beach with water when the contract between the neighboring cities expires in 1993.

The pipeline proposal has enraged North Carolinians and Virginians in Daniel's district who are served by Lake Gaston. Opponents say pumping water into Virginia Beach would severely deplete the water available for residential and industrial use in areas now served by the lake.

"We have to protect our resources as much as we can," Swindell said. "If they can get it the needed water from the sea, why not try it?"

Allan A. Hoffman, chairman of the Roanoke River Basin Association, a staunch opponent of the pipeline, warned that its construction "could precipitate a water war between the states of North Carolina and Virginia and between communities in both states."