The chairman of the Environment Agency has warned that Britain may face tough choices in the future including whether it wants to save "town or country" from flooding because it is too costly to defend both.
Lord Smith said "difficult choices" would have to be made over what to protect because "there is no bottomless purse" to pay for defences.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Lord Smith defended the EA after a week in which it has come in for heavy criticism over its handling of the flooding crisis.
He said the sea surge in December reached higher levels than the east coast surge of 1953, which cost more than 300 lives, but without the loss of life because of advances in flood warning and risk-management.
He added that "there are no quick fixes in the face of this kind of extreme rainfall" and that tough decisions lie ahead about how protection from flooding is managed in the future.