Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ronald Foresta

Committee Members

Charles S. Aiken, Mary R. English, Bruce Ralston, Shih-Lung Shaw


Wastewater treatment has long had a powerful restraining influence on land use patterns in the United States. The limited availability of central sewers confined intense property development to the sewered areas of cities and towns. The drawbacks associated with septic systems restrained even moderate-density development in areas with inappropriate soils. The advent of decentralized wastewater systems abolished these restraints, however. This technology made it possible to develop land at even high densities with no regard for the proximity of sewers and little for soil quality. This presented an opportunity for developers to pursue projects wherever attractive conditions prevailed. It also offered communities a tool for creating a more appealing pattern of development. These two possibilities were recognized shortly after the technology emerged but limited early use prevented empirical inquiry into which would prevail. Now, with numerous systems installed in Tennessee, we have the opportunity to study the development patterns to which they have given rise. The study employed GIS to identify where systems have been used and what kind of development they have supported. This pattern of system use was compared to the state’s “smart growth” planning initiative. Results revealed that their use undermined orderly growth and accelerated sprawl. Once the local patterns of use were identified, the decision processes behind them were explored through in-depth interviews and examination of policy documents and regulations. Research focused on state regulatory agencies and three case-study counties. Inquiry revealed that developers and landowners were quick to grasp the opportunities presented by the technology while planning authorities failed to either see or act on the opportunities these systems presented for promoting orderly development. The late and weak response of planning was ultimately traceable to how the public’s interest in orderly development was only imperfectly articulated through state or local government channels. It thus was unable to counter the technology’s opportunistic use. This suggests that if decentralized systems and other new infrastructure technologies are to promote orderly growth, the public's expressed desire for such growth must be articulated through public channels and embedded in policies to manage these technologies with community goals in mind.

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