Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) was applied to the 16S–23S rRNA intergenic spacer region (ISR) as a means to evaluate strain level differences in Escherichia coli. The ISRs of 81 environmental E. coli isolates obtained from bovine, poultry, and human sources yielded a total of 41 unique DGGE banding patterns, with identical patterns and common bands within each source and no overlapping patterns among sources. An additional 51 isolates from two nearby streams yielded 45 unique banding patterns with no overlap between sites. However, two of the isolates from the streams had identical banding patterns to those from two of the source isolates, resulting in a total of 84 unique DGGE banding patterns out of 132 isolates identified in this study. These results revealed high diversity among environmental E. coli isolates, which made it difficult to unambiguously ascribe strains found in water samples to specific host organisms.