The Carter administration ended a four-year hiatus on White House recommendations for new federal water projects with a proposal yesterday that Congress fund 26 new projects at a total cost of nearly $718 million.
At the same time, administration officials said there was a strong likelihood that the president would veto an appropriations bill scheduled to come before the House next week that would resurrect seven of the nine projects killed by Congress last year in the controversy over Carter's water project "hit list."
Earlier this week Carter announced his plan for a national water policy that he said would stiffen the criteria for measuring the value of federal water constructions and requires states to share project costs.
The new cost-sharing proposal would not apply to the 17 new projects for the Corps of Engineers and nine for the Bureau of Reclamation which were sent to Congress yesterday. Administration officials said the cost-sharing rules would apply, if the president's program is enacted, on all water projects beginning in 1980.
Eliot R. Cutler, an official of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a news conference that the new list is packaged in such a way that it would keep the water projects under a tight fiscal rein.
The president's proposal asks Congress to spend $68.2 million during the first year of the projects and authorize a lump sum expenditure of $717.9 million for the construction of the package. Cutler said the projected construction time for the largest of the projects would run to mid-1986.
"We are clearly flying in the face of congressional custom," he said. The administration, Cutler said, is seeking to make clear the entire cost of water projects at the time they are approved rather than allowing costs to escalate after Congress has appropriated the first year funds.
Cutler and other administration officials acknowledged yesterday that the plan would "take some of the steam" away from those in Congress seeking to control the allocation of federal water project money in the future.
"Congress could, of course, give the appearance of cutting the budget while in fact increasing it, by rejecting full funding and starting more projects with smaller 1979 appropriations," he said.
Cutler said the proposed House bill would do just that.
Administration officials said that while there is room for compromise on the House public works appropriations bill, Carter would veto it in its present form, because of the resurrection of the water projects on his hit list of last year and because of the overall cost.
The House committee approved 41 new water projects that would cost an estimate $1.4 billion to build, roughly twice the cost of the package of 26 projects proposed by the administration yesterday. Initial year funding for the 41 projects, however, would not be significantly different from the $68.2 million necessary to start Carter's package, administration officials said.
The officials said yesterday they had factored inflation into the cost estimates of the Carter package, ranging from 6.2 percent at the start to 4 percent at the conclusion of the longest project.
In addition to the 26 water projects proposed for the Corps fof Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, the administration also proposes to spend $75 million on 25 small Soil Conservation Service projects.
The largest of the water construction projects on the administration list would establish a recreation area along the Big South Fork River in Kentucky and Tennessee. The projected cost would come to $140 million, with most of the money for acquisition of land.
According to Cutler, all of the administration's proposed projects are included among 834 projects already authorized for construction by Congress. None of the nine water projects eliminated as part of last year's "hit list" is included on the new list.