President Bush’s 2008 budget includes $71.7 million to improve treatment at an existing sewage-treatment plant in southern San Diego — money requested as a backup in case the Bajagua Project fails to meet its requisite deadlines.

The Wall Street Journal says:

Federal officials say the proposed appropriation was spurred mainly by worry that the government may violate a federal-court order on treating the sewage if the Bajagua project doesn’t materialize. However, if Bajagua does meet requirements, the proposal calls for spending $3 million to cover a month’s worth only of the Bajagua project’s initial costs.

The money allocated in Bush’s proposed budget would be used at the International Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats 25 million gallons of Tijuana’s sewage daily and then discharges it more than 3 miles offshore. The sewage is only treated to a primary standard, a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The budget proposal would treat the sewage to a secondary standard, filtering out more solids.

Craig Benedetto, a Bajagua spokesman, said the budget proposal includes the assumption that Mexico would pay for one-third of the upgrade.

“Unfortunately Mexico has no money and so that means — even if they wanted to use that as the fall-back measure — they wouldn’t have the money to pay for it,” he said.

The Journal says the government would use the fallback plan if Bajagua fails to meet its contractual requirements by May 2.

Benedetto said the government has the option to terminate its agreement if Bajagua hasn’t signed a contract with the feds — but it won’t automatically happen.

“It depends on how far along we are,” Benedetto said.

Bajagua has accepted inquiries from companies interested in designing, building and operating the 59-million-gallon-a-day sewage plant, which will be built in Tijuana but be paid for by American taxpayers. Those companies should be whittled down to three within the next 30 to 40 days, Benedetto said, and asked to submit formal proposals. Those proposals will spell out how much the project will cost taxpayers, which is still unknown.

ROB DAVIS

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