Abingdon Lock on the River Thames is currently undergoing a face lift as part of the Environment Agency’s ongoing commitment to keeping the river's locks in good condition for boaters.
Work to refurbish the lock chamber started on 1st November, 2012 and involved damming and draining the lock entirely to gain access to the walls. The chamber walls also had to be braced to prevent them from collapsing inwards once the water was removed.
A team of workers have been busy repairing voids in the chamber walls and mending cracks before re-sheeting (or re-coating) the walls with concrete. They will then install new rubbing timbers to protect the walls and boats from damaging each other. The existing timbers have been in place for 25 years.
This is a job that only happens once every 20 to 25 years. It also presents us with a major challenge as the work can only be carried out in winter and early spring when boating traffic is minimal, but weather conditions are normally less than ideal. This winter our workers have had to contend with exceptionally heavy rainfall and high river levels.
The work at Abingdon lock is the largest project in a £2.75 million programme of capital works on the River Thames running from September 2012 to March 2013. Twelve locks along the River Thames will benefit from investment over the winter period.
Over 450 fish were caught at the lock during the draining process in November and released to the river in preparation for the engineering works to begin. Following heavy rainfall at the end of the year the process had to be repeated and in excess of 100 fish were removed. Environment Agency fisheries team used manual electro-fishing tools to stun the fish before removing them and safely returning them to the river. Electro-fishing involves passing an electric current through the water, attracting and momentarily stunning the fish, enabling them to be easily caught.
Paul Power, Environment Agency Waterways Engineer for the River Thames, said: “This is a highly unusual opportunity to see a lock out of operation and drained to the bottom. A lock without water is a rare sight, and serves as a reminder to us on how much we rely on the smooth operation of locks to keep the River Thames running on a day to day basis.
“The refurbishment of the lock walls will mean Abingdon Lock will continue to operate smoothly for many more years to come.”
The Environment Agency owns more than 2000 structures along the River Thames which we have a legal duty to maintain and keep to good and safe working order ensuring that many thousands of people can navigate this great river with peace of mind.