Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/25/2011 01:57:04 PM PDT

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has filed an appeal with the state’s Water Resources Control Board to stop an order that it provide permanent replacement water to Hinkley residents affected by a toxic groundwater plume.

The utility’s action Tuesday afternoon comes two weeks after the Lahontan Water Board ordered PG&E to provide a new replacement water system to Hinkley water users.

PG&E has been providing bottled water at more than 80 locations in Hinkley, including homes and the town’s only school and senior center.

“We remain committed to continuing to work cooperatively with the water board, interested agencies and the Hinkley community to address environmental impacts and community concerns stemming from our past operations…,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said.

Those operations have for decades forced PG&E to grapple with the High Desert town’s groundwater contamination problem.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the utility used the cancer-causing chemical hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, to prevent rust and algae buildup in its cooling towers, long before the harmful side effects of the chemical were known. The chemical leaked into unlined ponds and contaminated Hinkley’s groundwater.

The plight of Hinkley’s residents, who claimed the contaminated groundwater was the cause of myriad health ailments, and their landmark lawsuit against PG&E was the subject of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.”

Last year, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, Lahontan Region, learned the contaminated plume had expanded to roughly 21/2 miles in length and about a mile in width. It ramped up its orders to PG&E to expedite the cleanup process.

A series of community meetings were launched, and Erin Brockovich was again summoned to the town to gather with residents and discuss their concerns. Talk of another lawsuit swirled through the community.

Smith said on Tuesday that PG&E is concerned about the “wide-ranging and statewide policy implications of certain provisions” with Lahontan’s Oct. 11 abatement order.

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