Why are these water reserves criticized by environmentalists and farmers?

They are dubbed “mega-basins” by their detractors. Farmers and the administration prefer the term “replacement reserves”. These huge outdoor swimming pools once again gave rise to a demonstration on Saturday October 29 in Sainte-Soline (Deux-Sèvres).

>> Controversial basins: follow the evolution of the situation in our life

Created by operators to store the essential needs of agriculture and livestock, these artificial reservoirs are multiplying in France, while the country is experiencing episodes of drought aggravated by global warming. However, some opponents, increasingly numerous too, see it as a symbol of unreasonable agriculture, which would prioritize yields over environmental protection. Franceinfo takes stock of the main criticisms leveled at these initiatives.

Because these basins centralize huge amounts of water in the open air

The proliferation and size of these artificial reservoirs often make environmental and anti-globalization activists cringe. In Deux-Sèvres, for example, no fewer than 16 water reservoirs must be built to meet irrigation needs. Among the first excavated, the so-called “SEV17” has a capacity for just over 400,000 m3 of water, the equivalent of 160 Olympic swimming pools. The most important thing about this departmental-scale project will be the ability to store up to 650,000 m3.

>> REPORTAGE. In Deux-Sèvres, in the face of drought, water storage in “mega-basins” does not flow from a source

To build such reserves, the farmers gathered in a cooperative want to pump the precious liquid directly into the water table in winter (from November to March), so they don’t have to do it in the summer. This agricultural practice, formalized for the first time in France by a memorandum of understanding signed in 2018 in Deux-Sèvres, is accused of disturbing the water cycle by certain environmental defense organizations. On its site, the Bassines non merci collective points out the risks of drying courses, accelerated evaporation… or even unregulated pumping of groundwater.

“It is better to store water in the basement than in the groundbelieves Bruno Parmentier, an engineer specializing in agricultural issues, interviewed on Franceinfo channel 27 on Saturday, October 29. In summer, when it’s very hot, between 30 and 50% of the water we have stored goes away, it’s not useful for you”. Alternatives are proposed to conserve water without going through reservoirs, such as reforestation, the substitution of water-intensive crops (such as corn) or the return of pastures.

Because some projects are carried out illegally

All replacement reserves created in France are not supervised like those of Sainte-Soline. 75 kilometers away Five excavated agricultural basins in Cram-Chaban (Charente-Maritime) were declared illegal by the Bordeaux Administrative Court of Appeal on May 17, reported France Bleu. After fourteen years of proceedings, justice has confirmed that the environmental impact study of these reservoirs was “it has failed”. In detail, the court noted the lack of precision in terms of consequences for groundwater and rivers.

Memoranda of understanding, such as the one signed in Deux-Sèvres, should be used to prevent such a situation. Especially since agricultural irrigation is an ancient practice. “In my parents’ time, farmers would dig a well on their land and drink water,” For example, Thierry Boudaud, an elected member of the FNSEA, explained to franceinfo last July (National Federation of Farmers Unions) and president of the Coop de l’eau 79, a private company that manages the Sainte-Soline reserves.

Faced with the controversy, the government wants to play the appeasement card. Forhe Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, opponents of these projects “We denounce something fair, the need for us to reduce collectively, and also farmers, our water uses”, he told France Inter on Saturday. By emphasizing, with supporting studies, that the Sainte-Soline project had, for example, “no negative consequences for tablecloths” groundwater It is not enough to reassure environmentalists, who also demand control of the commitments (reduction of pesticides, planting of hedges, etc.) made by the operators who use these ponds.

Because they are accused of increasing inequalities among farmers

On the side of some farmers too, anger is brewing over these huge water reserves. “You should know that in France irrigated areas represent about 10% of the agricultural area”explained Saturday at franceinfo Nicolas Girod, spokesman for the Peasant Confederation, himself a farmer and rancher in the Jura. “This means that these watershed projects are beneficial to a minority of farmers, he added. There is a hoarding of water by this minority”.

The pill fares worse for farmers who resist watersheds, since these projects sometimes benefit from significant public funds. The first tranche of the Sainte-Soline project (ie six reserves) is financed, for example, “70% by the agency of Loire-Brittany water and funds [du] recovery plan” explain to your administrators on your site. According to these, “The total cost of the project is estimated at 60 million euros”.

As fears of a “water war” simmer in France, basin opponents are calling for equal or even higher funding for alternative storage solutions. “MEIt seems to us that if we want to better overcome periods of drought, we must instead move towards agricultural practices that allow better infiltration of water into the soil, Nicholas Girod believes, so that water is available to everyone.

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