Environmental impacts of land development in low-lying wetlands of the northeastern North Carolina coastal plain are linked to artificial drainage systems which dramatically increase drainage density. The hydrologic regime is dramatically altered, affecting the entire ecosystem. A qualitative stability analysis of the partially-specified surface hydrologic system shows that it is at most metastable. The rate at which channels degrade and lose water-carrying capacity after alteration of the network is the key determinant of stability. Artificailly-drained wetlands appear to be metastable, with rapid channel degradation following ditch and canal construction, but data are limited. In many cases maintenance of man-made channels may eliminate the possibility of readjustment to a new hydrologic equilibrium. © 1985.
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