Lake Oroville, the second largest reservoir in California, is now releasing water from its spillway for the first time in five years.

"We were 250 feet below the crest in December, and just three months later we're now within 38 feet of the crest," said California Department of Water Resources engineer Kevin Dossey, as he looked up at a huge ribbon of water flowing down the dam's spillway on Thursday.

At 84 percent full, the releases are required by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep room available in the reservoir in case of a major flood event.

The releases began at 10 a.m. Thursday and escalated through the day.

Hundreds drove up from Oroville and places beyond to watch water rush down the spillway, and over the concrete dragon's teeth, called "energy attenuators" by engineers.

"I think it's just a treasure coming back to life here in our town of Oroville," said local historian Peggie Anderson. "You see an excitement in the community today, more than I've seen for a long, long time, knowing that our reservoir is full."

Chad Her brought his kids up to fish on green banks along the lake for the first time in years.

"Look at him," the Oroville native said, pointing to his two-year-old son. "He's enjoying it...really a blessing to get the water back up again."

Locals walked across the top of the dam and out onto docks that are now floating again. Boat ramps are again busy.

"I've been coming up here all of my life and the last four to five years it's been dismal and now it's incredible," said Kevin Moore of Yuba City as he docked his boat.

The water is swelling the Feather River, which went from 1,000 feet per second up to 6,000 cubic feet per second. The releases will raise the river's water level anywhere from two to four feet.

"People are living on islands in the river and we had to do some warning and let people know we were going to raise the river," Dossey said.

The sudden rise was noted by river-goers.

"You don't get close because it can take you under in no time," said Juanita Crosby, as she walked her kids along the shore. "People need to know not to get to close."

Fishermen along the river are delighted at the higher water.

"Really low flow to tremendous now. Going to be a great year for salmon fishing-fishing in general," said Ryan Tripp, as he tending a fishing pole along the river.

Some thought it might take years to restore the reservoir to its current level.

"All of this happened in just four months," Dossey said. "Everybody is talking about having the lake back again."