When President Carter compiled a "hit list" of 18 expendable water development projects last winter, he ran headlong into a buzzsaw of congressional indignation that was fed by bold newspaper headlines and daily television hoopla.

Before the dust settled, the President had his first major legislative setback in the administration's first test of strength and in the end he wound up spending valuable political chips reaching a compromise that salvaged half the projects.

Yesterday, another hit list - this one containing 271 water projects costing upwards of $1 billion - became law without a whimper of public notice. It was written by Robert Wolff.

Robert who?

Robert Wolff works in the planning division of the Army Corps of Engineers, and if his name isn't a household word, at least he has shown he wields political clout of sorts.

If the folks along the Sangamon River from Salt Creek north to Mohamet, Ill., were counting on that $9,000 channel-straightening job they were told they would get in 1954, they can write Robert Wolff, because they are not going to get it.

Same goes for the Lusserhoo [WORD ILLEGIBLE] project, also in Illinois; the Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina, the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Bayou channel extension in Texas and the Tallapossa River project in Alabama.

The projects that the Army buried - with the help of House and Senate public works committee resolutions that went into effect yesterday for want of objections - range in cost from $9,000 for the Sangamon channel straigthening to $96.8 million for a new 100-foot-wide channel with nine locks in the Red River basin in Louisiana and east Texas.

And those are at mid 1950s prices.

All of the projects on the Army's hit list have been gathering dust for at least eight years, and some as long as the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, said Ann Garrabrant of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

Edward Greene, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers, said the housecleaning list of doomed projects was put together in 1974 and was sent to Congress in June, 1975. Under the law, the projects died automatically yesterday, with 50 more cutled out for further study.

Greene said tens of millions of dollars had been spent so far in planning the "deauthorized" water projects, but that no attempt has been made to tally what they would all cost if carried out. "It's impossible to make a meaningful estimate. Some of the estimates are so old, we wouldn't know what they cost in today's dollars," he said.

No work has been done on the Little Pee Dee River project for which $42,200 has already been spent, since 1897 and the government recommended in 1946 that it be abandoned. According to the Army description, the project would be included a 4 foot-wide poleboat channel as far north as Little Rock, S.C.

Jack Lesemann of the corps' Charleston notice said he sent letters to every county in the state telling officials of the abandonment plans and got only one reply.

That was from Marion County, whose officials said nobody much remembered the water development pain, but that they would oppose it anyway.

It seems the Little Pee Dee in that county has become blocked with fallen trees and snags making it one of the best fishing spots around, and nobody wanted the Army interfering with good fishing.

"These projects are real dogs. They should have been canceled long ago, so I don't think there will be much controversy now," said Garrabant.

Another list, due in another month or so, will contain about 50 more projects to be deauthorized, followed by a third list at the end of the year with about the same number, she said.