Utah's street floods in 1983 and the current water shortage are prime examples of the problems that will be alleviated by Little Dell Dam, said Army Corps of Engineers officers at groundbreaking ceremonies Monday.

Scores of water officials who had seen the Little Dell Dam project stalled for decades gathered for the long-awaited ceremony, held about a half-mile upstream from the dam site.The groundbreaking came 52 years after the first field engineering studies were conducted and about 35 years after project construction was to start.

Ellis Armstrong, who later became commissioner of reclamation in the Nixon administration, conducted those first field studies. He attended Monday's ceremony and echoed the feelings of many other longtime supporters of the project who said they never dreamed it would take this long to get Little Dell construction under way.

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said one of his first appearances at a congressional hearing involved Little Dell. He was then Salt Lake City's water commissioner. "I was a young man when I started working on Little Dell."

In the original design, Little Dell Dam had an $8 million price tag and would have created an 8,000 acre-foot reservoir. The project now under construction has been enlarged to impound 20,500 acre-feet of water and carries an expected cost of $51.3 million at 1988 prices.

Designed as a flood control feature, Little Dell will store enough water for culinary use to serve almost 8,000 Salt Lake area households.

Garn and Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis both said there would have been no need to build sandbag dikes to channel flood waters along Salt Lake City streets in 1983 if Little Dell had been in place. The dam also will buffer its aging companion, Mountain Dell Dam, which is situated about a mile and a half downstream from the Little Dell Dam site.

Federal drought mitigation efforts have taken Assistant Secretary of the Army Robert W. Page on tours of many drought-stricken areas of the nation recently.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, Page said reservoirs such as the one Little Dell Dam will create are helping many Midwestern and Southern cities fend off the devastating effects of the drought. "Atlanta wouldn't have water today," if it weren't for several federal reservoirs there, he said. "Other reservoirs have made it possible to maintain traffic on the Mississippi."

Little Dell is the first federal water project to be approved by Congress under the provisions of the 1986 Water Resource Development Act, said Lt. Col. Robert A. Bauman, acting district engineer for the Corps of Engineers in Sacramento.

That program requires local sponsors to pay a significant portion of the construction expense. An interlocal agreement authorizing construction was signed June 10, 1986, by the Army Corps of Engineers, Salt Lake County and the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake.

Salt Lake City contributed the dam and reservoir site. Salt Lake County has agreed to pay $7.6 million, and the water district is paying $14.3 million, with the balance being paid from the federal treasury through the Corps, which is building the dam. The Utah Department of Natural Resources contributed $1.6 million to buy down interest.

Bauman said water officials across the nation have been watching the Little Dell project because of the new financing program.

Metropolitan Water District General Manager Nick Sefakis said the project's cost-sharing feature helped Little Dell stay alive in Congress during a time when funding was eliminated for other federal water projects. The House Appropriations Committee in May approved the full $7.8 million in construction funds requested in the Reagan administration budget for construction during the coming fiscal year.

Work on a contract to relocate roads around the reservoir site began more than a year ago, and excavation crews are now working on an $898,000 core trenching and test-filling contract awarded in April to Harper Contracting of Salt Lake City.

Harper is digging a 60-foot-deep trench that will expose the dam's foundation and provide engineering data that will be used to refine the design of the earthen dam that is to rise 224 feet above the canyon floor.

More than 4.7 million cubic yards of fill material will be used to build the 1,700-foot-long dam.

The general contract for dam construction is scheduled to be awarded in 1989 and construction is to be completed late in 1991. Filling then would begin in 1992.

Recreation features were cut from the Little Dell proposal to minimize the project's price tag, but limited recreation facilities may be considered at a later date.