As severe flooding continues to wreak havoc across the country, Britain must decide whether to protect "town or country" because it is too costly to safeguard both, the chairman of the Environment Agency has said.
Lord Chris Smith said "difficult choices" lie ahead because "there's no bottomless purse" to pay for flood defences.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Smith acknowledged the "extraordinary combination of weather conditions over the past eight weeks" and defended the EA after a week in which it has come in for heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis.
In the Somerset Levels, large swathes of land have been underwater for more than a month. But Lord Smith emphasised that the situation has been much worse in previous years.
Drawing comparisons with similar floods in 1953, he said that, while the conditions in Somerset have caused "terrible distress for the 40 homeowners who have been flooded", there has not been the "tragic loss of life" seen more than 60 years ago when 300 people died.
"Advances in flood warning and flood-risk management have made a difference," he said.
However, Lord Smith added: "There are no quick fixes in the face of this kind of extreme rainfall, and the solutions are not just for the Environment Agency to find. We all need to work together if we're to solve the problem."
His comments will stoke fears that the Government is considering which parts of the country it can sacrifice to the flood waters.
"Yes, agricultural land matters and we do whatever we can with what we have to make sure it is protected. Rules from successive governments give the highest priority to lives and homes; and I think most people would agree that this is the right approach," he said.
"But this involves tricky issues of policy and priority: town or country, front rooms or farmland?"
Underwater Britain: Scenes from a flood-ravaged countryside
In Pictures: 2014 Winter floods
In Pictures: 2014 Winter floods
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Thorpe Park in Surrey sits in flood water
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Flood water at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
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Flood water surrounds the M3 motorway near to Chertsey, Surrey, as Royal Engineers were now being tasked to carry out a high-speed assessment of damage to the UK's flood defence infrastructure
4/60 Floods in Chertsey
Tom Poulter surveys the damage in his flooded garden which backs on to the Thames in Chertsey
5/60 Floods in Chertsey
Tom Poulter wades across his flooded garden to his house in Chertsey
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Laleham Reach resident of 20 years Tom Poulter wades across his flooded garden to his house in Chertsey
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Carol Murdoch assesses the damage to her flooded shed in Chertsey
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Laleham Reach resident Steve Rastall returns home with supplies of shopping and logs for the fire in Chertsey
9/60 Floods in Hurley
A woman uses a dinghy to transport her children from their property, which is situated adjacent to the river Thames and surrounded by flood water in Hurley
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The pavilion of Hurley Cricket Club, which is situated near to the river Thames, is surrounded by flood water in Hurley
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Flood water surrounds housing in Staines-Upon-Thames, England
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A large house near the River Thames is surrounded by flood water in Wargrave
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Floodwater in the town of Worcester in western England
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Nigel Gray leaves his home in a rowing boat after the river Thames flooded the village of Wraysbury
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The front gate to a house is seen surrounded by water after the river Thames flooded the village of Wraysbury
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A resident wearing homemade waders carries a dog through floodwater as residents begin to evacuate homes in Wraysbury
17/60 Floods in Datchet
Residents carry sandbags through flood water to protect their homes as flood water continues to rise after the river Thames burst it's banks in Datchet
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Locals look at flooded railway lines after river Thames burst it's banks in Datchet
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A man brings a family member home on a boat after flood water continues to rise after the river Thames burst it's banks in Datchet
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A youth cycles through flood water after the river Thames burst it's banks on February in Datchet
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Nigel Farage wades in water as he visits a flooded property at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels near Bridgwater
22/60 Floods in Moorlands
A general view of an owners home that has been affected by flooding in Moorlands
23/60 Floods in Burrowbridge
Flood waters engulf a house with a wall of sandbags around it in Burrowbridge
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A car sits in flood water on a flooded property at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels near Bridgwater
25/60 Floods in Burrowbridge
Devon and Somerset Fire and rescue service evacuate two women and two cats in baskets through flood waters in Burrowbridge
26/60 Floods in Moorland
A graveyard is seen underwater in the village of Moorland
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A graveyard is seen underwater in the village of Moorland
28/60 Flooding near Bury
A train heads to Pulborough over the Arun flood plain near Bury, England
29/60 Flooding in Twickenham
A car is submerged in flood water from the River Thames in Twickenham, south London
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Flood water from the River Thames covers roads in Twickenham, south London
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A cyclist struggles through flood water in Bristol
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River defence barriers are put in place in Bristol after flooding from the River Avon
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A car drives through flood water on the Somerset Levels near Langport in Somerset
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Flood water collects in an allotment site near Langport in Somerset
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Flooded fields surround the River Tone that has burst its banks viewed from Windmill Hill, in Stoke-St-Gregory near Langport in Somerset
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Trees are reflected in flood waters on the Somerset Levels near Langport in Somerset
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Farmer Roger Forgan uses a boat to cross farm land in front of his flooded farm which has been cut off by flood waters at Muchelney near Langport in Somerset
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A man walks beside the River Tone seen from Windmill Hill, Somerset, as flooding persists on the levels
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Flooded fields around the River Tone seen from Windmill Hill, Somerset
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An electricity survey helicopter flies over flooded farmland surrounding Burrowbridge in Somerset
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Flooded farmland surrounding Burrowbridge in Somerset
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Anne Bourmer wades through flood water outside her home in Hooe, East Sussex, as more heavy rain sweeps across the country
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Flood water is pumped into the River Parrott by the Environment Agency in Moorland in Somerset
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A flood sign is seen in flood waters surrounding farm buildings in Somerset
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Debris washed up by flood water is seen at James Winslade's farm in Moorland in Somerset
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Farmer James Winslade stands in front of bales of animal feed as he surveys some of his 790 acres of flooded land at his farm in Moorland in Somerset, England
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Flood water surrounds a house in the village of Thorney in Somerset
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A car is seen submerged on the side of a flooded road leading into the cut-off village of Muchelney in Somerset. A local council declared a major incident on the flood-hit Somerset Levels where some villages like Muchelney have been cut off for weeks by flooding that has submerged roads and thousands of acres of farmland in the area of southwestern England
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A policeman on a boat looks at a car submerged on the side of a flooded road leading into the cut-off village of Muchelney in Somerset
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The village of Muchelney is seen beyond flood water in Somerset
51/60 Floods in Somerset
Residents disembark a boat after being transported from the cut-off village of Muchelney in Somerset on 27 January. A new plan to deal with a flood-hit area of south-west England will be drawn up within six weeks, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson announced as he was confronted by angry residents
52/60 Floods in Somerset
Pipes pump flood water into a river in Burrow Bridge, flood-hit Somerset on 27 January. A local council last week declared a major incident on the flooded Somerset Levels where some villages have been cut off for weeks by water that has submerged roads and thousands of acres of farmland
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Cattle feed in a barn in front of a flooded farm yard in the village of Thorney along the road to Muchelney on 24 January
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Workers from Pontoonworks build a pontoon along the road leading to the village of Muchelney to help villagers board a boat which has been used for transport along flooded roads on 24 January
55/60 Floods in Kent
Resident Jeff Hopcroft looks out from his flooded house on January 2, 2014 in Yalding, England
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A resident measures the level of flood water outside his home in Yalding
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A couple in a canoe travel across the flood water near Yalding
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Flood water from the River Mole rises after recent heavy rain in Leatherhead, England
59/60 Floods in Kent
A resident walks through the Little Venice Caravan Park in Yalding, Kent, as flood waters return to the site after recent bad weather
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Residents Ian Peacock and Caroline Hine leave the Little Venice Caravan Park in a boat after the heavy rains brought back the floods in the area
Lord Smith has been criticised for his agency's decision not to dredge rivers in Somerset.
But he added: "Flood defences cost money; and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend on different places, communities and livelihoods - in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, or East Anglia? There's no bottomless purse, and we need to make difficult but sensible choices about where and what we try to protect."
Meanwhile, householders have been told to brace themselves as further wind and rain threatens to bring more chaos to waterlogged communities across Britain.
Around 180 homes were flooded during a busy weekend for the emergency services and EA workers up and down the country.
Following a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said that 73,000 homes in England had been protected from flooding since Friday, and that the EA continued to protect communities by deploying demountable flood defences, sandbags and clearing waterways.
He said: "I have enormous sympathy for those who have been affected again this weekend and the government is working with all local councils to help communities recover. All requests for assistance have been met."
EA staff have been working around the clock to alleviate the flooding hell that people in the county have endured for five weeks, pumping 1.5 million tonnes of water a day off the Levels.
Two specialist all-terrain vehicles have been sent to the county along with extra pumping equipment.
But with further rain expected following the wettest January on record in some places, saturated ground and high river levels could lead to further river flooding this week.
Weather forecasters are expecting winds of up to 70mph today, and up to 30mm (1.2in) of rain.
Officials say fresh flooding could affect the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall today as well as Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
As of this morning the EA had three severe flood warnings in place, one covering large parts of Cornwall and Devon, and two for the River Severn in the Midlands. There are also 95 flood warnings and 233 less severe flood alerts.
On Saturday, a 67-year-old woman died after being swept out to sea near the mouth of the River Arun at Littlehampton Pier, West Sussex.
And in Newgale, west Wales, 10 people had to be plucked from a bus in the dark after a large wave swept it on to the seafront.
Additional reporting by Press AssociationReuse content