French police fired tear gas at protesters during a large demonstration in the country’s west.
Thousands had gathered in Sainte-Soline to oppose plans for a new water reservoir.
Following clashes at the construction site, several police cars were set on fire.
The unrest comes after weeks of anti-government protests in Paris and other cities in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms.
Despite being unrelated to the protests over plans to raise the state pension age, the latest demonstration adds to France’s growing sense of public outrage.
Despite a ban on gatherings in the district, opponents of the irrigation project in Sainte-Soline, near Poitiers, marched in large numbers on Saturday.
According to local authorities, at least 6,000 people took part in the procession, though organizers claim the group numbered 25,000.
They are protesting one of the reservoirs being built in the Deux-Sèvres department, which was designed by a group of 400 farmers to reduce mains water usage during the summer.
Last year’s worst drought on record in France heightened debate over water resources. Supporters of artificial reservoirs argue that they could provide a solution to future water shortages.
Opponents argue that the project favors large agricultural producers for crop irrigation in the summer and would not benefit the local community directly.
“While the country stands up to defend pensions, we will stand up to defend water,” said the organizers, who gathered under the banner “Bassines non merci” – “No reservoirs, please.”
More than 3,000 police officers were dispatched to Sainte-Soline, and officials reported that at least 1,000 potentially violent activists had joined the protest.
Security forces reportedly used tear gas to disperse those who were throwing fireworks and projectiles as they approached the fenced-off construction area.
According to officials, several people have been arrested, and police have seized weapons such as pétanque balls and meat knives.
President Emmanuel Macron stated: “We will not succumb to this violence. We do not have the right to use violence in a democracy.”
Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior, described the violence against officers in Sainte-Soline as “unspeakable” and “unbearable.”
Some demonstrators in Sainte-Soline linked this struggle to nationwide protests against President Macron and his decision to force a pension age increase.
“What is happening today is a convergence of struggles – this struggle for water is similar to the struggle for pensions,” explained Benoit Jaunet, a spokesperson for the Deux-Sèvres Peasant Confederation.
“We are subjected to the same violence. For a few people, our labor and water are being stolen. That is not correct.”
Saturday’s march comes after similar marches in October.
Protests have erupted across France in recent weeks. After days of clashes with protesters, the situation in Paris and other cities has calmed down overnight, but security forces have remained on high alert.
Demonstrations have largely been peaceful, but violence has broken out in several French cities this week. The entrance to the town hall in Bordeaux was set ablaze. Tear gas was used in Paris, and hundreds of fires were started.
However, the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization, has warned that isolated acts of violence “cannot justify excessive use of force by state agents” or “deprive peaceful protesters of their right to free assembly.”
Protesters have gained confidence as a result of the government’s use of constitutional authority to impose reforms without a vote in the National Assembly.
The state visit of King Charles III to France has been postponed at the request of President Macron. On Sunday, the trip to Paris and Bordeaux was scheduled to begin.