A student at Dalhousie University is looking to create a swimming area along the Halifax waterfront next summer.

For years, sewage was pumped directly into the harbour. But after a $333 million sewage treatment project started more than a decade ago, Anika Riopel believes it's time for people to jump back into the harbour.

The environmental sustainability student moved to Halifax from northern Ontario to be closer to the ocean.

When she got here, she was surprised more people weren't swimming along the waterfront.

Anika Riopel

Dalhousie student Anika Riopel is hoping to see more swimmers in the harbour next summer. (Emma Davie/CBC)

"People told me that it wasn't possible and it wasn't done. So then I started digging through and looking into it, and I realized that the water quality is phenomenally good and it's not actually a barrier," she said.

"There's this massive opportunity to engage with the water right downtown, so that was something that was really exciting for me."

Riopel and recent Dalhousie graduate Jordan Gardiner have since started Jump In, a project aiming to create a designated swimming area near Bishop's Landing, equipped with docks, ladders and a jumping platform.

Hopes to change perceptions

"This spot in general can accommodate a lot of people without interrupting the flow on the waterfront," she said, adding that the beauty of George's Island and the Dartmouth waterfront — and being near the mouth of the harbour — make it an ideal location.

Riopel said along with doing her own water testing, she's looked at data provided by the city and believes the harbour is safe for swimmers.

"Obviously there was a time period where the water wasn't being treated ... Things have really changed. But sometimes our memories and perceptions are a lot harder to change."

Waterfront

Anika Riopel says the data shows the water is safe for swimmers. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Last year, Halifax Water tracked the water quality in the harbour through a seasonal pilot program. Ultraviolet lights, which disinfect waste water in the final stage of sewage treatment, were shut off at treatment centres during the winter months.

During that time, there were four instances where samples from the harbour surpassed safe enterococcus bacteria levels for swimming — compared to one sample testing above safe swimming guidelines before the pilot began.

Nearby beaches tested

Halifax Regional Municipality tests the water quality weekly at all supervised municipal beaches during the summer months, including Black Rock Beach in Point Pleasant Park, the Dingle Beach. 

Several of those beaches were closed earlier this month for high bacteria levels, attributed to naturally occurring reasons like weather conditions and waterfowl.

Riopel said if the project is given the go ahead, there will be routine checks to make sure the water is safe to swim in.

'I think it would be fun'

People along the waterfront on Sunday didn't seem too put off by the idea — like Baleigh Cain, who was visiting from Oklahoma with her family.

"It would be fun, if it was warm enough and safe, I think it would be really cool," she said.

Karen Newman from Ontario said the harbour looked cleaner to her than Lake Ontario, where she normally swims.

"I can very clearly see the foliage growing right there so that would, for me, I'd be like, 'Ugh I don't want to touch the squishy stuff.' But other than that... I would swim in here." 

Looking for public feedback

Riopel said she hopes to find out exactly how people feel about swimming in the harbour next month.

She'll be set up from Sept. 6 to 10 along the waterfront to answer questions and garner feedback about the project.

She said so far, she's had positive feedback on her project from Halifax Waterfront Development.  

"It's an opportunity to draw more people down to our waterfront," she said. "I mean, we're Canada's Ocean Playground, right?"