Thousands of demonstrators defied an official ban on marching on Saturday against the deployment of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, with some clashing with police.
Clashes broke out between paramilitary gendarmes and protesters, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 61 officers were injured, 22 of them seriously.
The campaign “Bassines Non Merci”, which organized the action, said that about 30 demonstrators were injured. 10 of them had to seek medical help, three were hospitalized.
The group unites environmental associations, trade unions and anti-capitalist groups against what it claims is the “grabbing of water” by “agribusiness” in western France.
Local authorities said that six people were arrested during the protest and that 4,000 people came to the banned demonstration. The organizers claim that 7,000 people will attend.
The deployment of giant water “pools” is underway in the village of Saint-Salines, in the De-Sèvres department, to irrigate crops, which opponents say will distort access to water in times of drought.
About 1,500 police officers were involved, according to De Sèvres department prefect Emmanuel Dubey.
Dubey said on Friday that she wanted to limit possible “acts of violence”, citing clashes between protesters and security forces that marred a previous rally in March.
The Sainte-Soline water reserve is the second of 16 such structures, part of a project developed by a group of 400 farmers organized into a water cooperative to significantly reduce water use during the summer.
The open craters, covered with a plastic tarp, are filled in winter by pumping water from the surface groundwater and can store up to 650,000 square meters of water.
This water is used for irrigation in the summer when rainfall is less.
Opponents argue that “mega-basins” are mistakenly reserved for large export-oriented grain farms and deprive society of access to necessary resources.