Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban to march on Saturday against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, according to organisers.
Clashes between paramilitary gendarmes and demonstrators erupted with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin reporting that 61 officers had been hurt, 22 seriously, but giving no toll for casualties among protesters.
“Bassines Non Merci” a pressure group that brings together environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups, organised the demonstration against what it claims is a “water grab” by the “agro-industry” in western France.
The deployment of giant water “basins” is underway in the village of Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents claim distorts access to water amid drought conditions.
Around 1,500 police were deployed according to the prefect of the Deux-Sèvres department Emmanuelle Dubée who said she expected some 5,000 demonstrators to descend on the village of around 350 inhabitants.
Dubée said on Friday that she had wanted to limit possible “acts of violence”, referring to the clashes between demonstrators and security forces that marred a previous rally in March.
The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 such installations, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organised in a water cooperative to significantly reduce mains water usage in summer.
The open-air craters, covered with a plastic tarpaulin, are filled by pumping water from surface groundwater in winter and can store up to 650,000 square metres of water.
This water is used for irrigation in summer, when rainfall is scarcer.
Opponents claim the “megabasins” are wrongly reserved for large export-oriented grain farms and deprive the community of access to the essential resource.