ACAP Saint John has been testing Marsh Creek since 1995.

ACAP Saint John has been testing Marsh Creek since 1995. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Saint John's Marsh Creek has seen a 99 per cent reduction in fecal coliform bacteria in some areas, compared to last year, according to recent tests by a local environmental group.

The bacteria are used as an indicator for the potential presence of other disease-causing pathogens, such as amoebic dysentery and hepatitis.

Tim Vickers, executive director of the Atlantic Coastal Action Program (ACAP), credits the Saint John Harbour cleanup project, which cut off the flow of raw sewage into the east side creek.

"Previous years, when we would step out in to the water, it was just basically a colloidal mixture — almost like a milkshake, just grey with toilet paper and other nasties," he said.

But this year, Vickers says he could see a change in the water, even before the latest test results came back.

"One of the first things we noticed when we waded out was that we could actually see our feet — the bottom of our waders when we were walking — and there was no toilet paper on the nets whatsoever. So immediately we realized something was going on, and there were some esthetic improvements right off the bat."

Still above federal guidelines

The fecal bacteria levels are still above the federal water safety guidelines of 200 counts per 100 millilitres of water for recreational use.

But the results are encouraging, said Vickers.

And there's no longer any smell, which is good for the city and its reputation, said Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart.

"They say first impressions last a life time, and so certainly the hold your breath while you drive past a certain area of the city didn't leave people with the image we want, so dealing with this is a huge step forward," she said.

The wildlife has bounced back in the area, with sandpipers, Great Blue Herons and raccoons combing the shore.

Vickers hopes Saint John citizens won't be far behind.

"I don't think it will take long when people realize that the water quality is much, much better to turn towards the creek, rather than turn their backs on it like they used to," he said.

ACAP has been testing water quality at Marsh Creek since 1995.

In 2006, all levels of government agreed on a $100-million cleanup of the Saint John Harbour.

Saint John council awarded the final contract for the project last fall. Galbraith Construction is building a sewage lift station on Mill Street.

Once complete, the cleanup project will be diverting an estimated 200 swimming pools worth of raw sewage every day.